DES MOINES, Iowa — An autopsy report shows 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson had alcohol and cocaine in his system when he was arrested on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in May.
But his parents say that offense shouldn’t have cost him his life.
Ellingson was arrested for suspicion of drunk boating. He was handcuffed and placed into a Missouri State Patrol boat. As the boat returned to shore, police say Ellingson fell out of the boat. His life jacket came off when he hit the water and he drowned before rescuers could reach him.
During a coroner’s inquest Thursday an attorney representing Ellingson’s family argued police negligence caused his death.
During the hearing the arresting officer testified he had no formal training on how to use life vests during an arrest or on what to do if someone in custody went into the water.
After hearing all testimony the jury deliberated for just eight minutes before ruling Ellingson’s death was an accident and not a result of negligence.
Ellingson’s family called the verdict a joke.
The decision of the jury to rule the death an “accident” has stirred up the emotions of WHO-TV Facebook page followers.
Violet Thacker Jones writes, “This was no accident, pure negligence.”
Tracy Edwards writes, “Wrong… wrong… wrong.”
Nate Boulton is a Des Moines attorney following the case.
He says for criminal negligence charges to be filed, a special prosecutor looking into the case has to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer thought he was likely to cause serious harm by his actions, but chose to do them anyways.
The jury said no.
“When we’re looking at the criminal system, we’re looking at the intent do harm or at least the depravity of not caring about the result of my actions that ended up doing harm. That’s a tough standard to meet,” said Boulton.
Even if criminal charges aren’t, filed, that doesn’t the mean case is closed.
“I think it’s very likely you’re going to see a tort claim for wrongful death based on the negligent actions of the officer,” Boulton told Channel 13 News.
In a civil suit, Boulton says Ellingson’s attorney can make the argument that the officer failed to meet state protocol by not securing his life vest leading to wrongful death.
“That protocol doesn’t seem to have been followed. The reason you have that protocol is to keep someone safe. When harm is realized because of failure to follow that protocol, you’re going to have liability,” said Boulton.
A civil lawsuit seeks monetary compensation.
We reached out to close friends and family members of Ellingson to comment on the case. Some were in Missouri for Thursday’s proceedings while others respectfully declined to comment at this time.