ST. LOUIS — A Missouri judge has fined the state Highway Patrol $5,000 after finding that it violated open records law in responding to requests from the family of an Iowa man who drowned while in custody.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued the order Wednesday. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2cjU17R ), Beetem ruled that the state’s delays in turning over documents to Brandon Ellingson’s family amounted to a “purposeful violation” of law. The fine is the maximum allowed.
Beetem also ordered the state to pay the costs of the attorneys who requested the records, which included the arresting trooper’s work schedule and training, as well as Highway Patrol policies on life jackets and handcuffs.
The 20-year-old Ellingson was arrested in 2014 on the Lake of the Ozarks on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. While being transported, he tumbled into the water wearing an improperly secured life vest and drowned.
The attorney general’s office says it is reviewing Beetem’s ruling.
The arresting trooper, Anthony Piercy, faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Witnesses say Piercy didn’t property secure a life jacket on Ellingson before Ellingson went into the water. Ellingson’s body was recovered the next day.
Piercy has pleaded not guilty. His trial was set to begin in September, but has been delayed due to a change of the judge in the case.
Piercy, who had previously patrolled roads, told jurors during a coroner’s inquest in September that he hadn’t received the proper training to handle what happened the day Ellingson drowned.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com