Brandon Ellingson was handcuffed when he fell off a police boat in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks and drowned, and now state officials are looking into whether police failed to properly protect the 20-year-old.
Ellingson was arrested for public intoxication and was being transported in a police boat when he stood and either jumped or fell into the water. Police say they tried to save the handcuffed man, but he sank beneath the water and could not be found.
Ellingson’s body was later found 80 feet underwater in the spot where he had fallen in, police said.
“Obviously a very serious situation, we’re looking into how the victim got out of his seat, went over to the side of the boat and then either jumped or fell off the boat,” said Missouri State Patrol Sgt. Paul Reinsch. “After the subject fell into the lake, the trooper first tried to retrieve him, and then actually go into the water to rescue him, and wasn’t able to do so.”
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is now investigating the arrest and trying to determine whether police followed proper policy in the arrest. They claim that Brandon Ellingson was wearing a “Level 3” life jacket, which resembles a vest and has three buckles in front, but that it fell off when he went into the water.
“That is a big part of our investigation,” Reinsch said. “To determine how it came off after it was placed on him.”
Reinsch said water arrests can be difficult, as police boats do not have seatbelts. The boat are also driven be a single officer, who must also keep an eye on the prisoner.
“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “You can’t lock the doors, can’t place them in a seatbelt. It’s very difficult to even stand a boat when it’s moving. So a totally different situation.”
The family of Brandon Ellingson are now demanding details about his death, and have said they may pursue a lawsuit.
Friends and family are also remembering Ellingson as a kind-hearted student, who was on the honor roll at Valley High School in West Des Moines.
“You know what, he was perfect. He was handsome, he was very very smart,” Gloria Ellingson said. “He could joke with you. He could be on any level. There wasn’t anybody like him.”
Brandon was also a standout athlete and a two-way football player on his team’s 2011 state champion squad.
“He was just a kid that could get along with everybody,” said Brad Rose, Valley High School athletic director. “He showed up every day, ready to work. Didn’t want any special favors. He carried his own weight and he was a good student — excellent student as well.”
The officer involved in the incident has reportedly been suspended while the Missouri Highway Patrol completes the investigation into the drowning death of Brandon Ellingson.