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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Where are the answers in Brandon Ellingson's death?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | 4:27 p.m. CDT

It's been a little more than a week since an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson. Unrest continues there, as the concerned residents of Ferguson and people around the nation try to piece together the truth about what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and 18-year-old Michael Brown.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said his office will take as much time as it needs to understand what led to the shooting of the young man. "We will do this as expeditiously as possible," McCulloch said. "But we won't rush."

When it comes to Missouri officials determining the role of law enforcement in deaths, urgency does not seem to be a priority. Unfortunately, friends of an Iowa man know this.

It has been nearly three months since Brandon Ellingson, 20, of West Des Moines died while in the custody of a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper who was working water patrol duty onMay 31 on Lake of the Ozarks. The former Valley High School football star was boating with friends when the trooper suspected he was intoxicated while operating the boat.

The trooper arrested Ellingson and handcuffed him with his hands behind his back. They headed across the water with Ellingson seated in a police boat. The trooper claimed Ellingson stood up while the boat was moving and jumped or was thrown into the lake. Ellingson did not have a life jacket on when his body was found the next day.

Missouri officials say none of the cameras on the trooper's boat was working that day. They say a life jacket was placed on Ellingson after he was taken into custody. Of course, it would be impossible for a properly secured life jacket to come off a suspect.

Many questions have been asked since Ellingson's death: Was the life jacket fastened properly before his hands were handcuffed, or did the trooper merely slip the life jacket over Ellingson's head, as friends of other people arrested on the lake claim is the practice? How fast was the patrol boat going? Friends of a man arrested in a different incident said he flopped around inside the patrol boat because his hands were fastened behind his back and he was unable to maintain his balance. Why aren't suspects secured in the boat seat?

A few days after Ellingson's death, the Missouri Highway Patrol said its investigation would be completed by the end of that week. They said the same thing a week later. Ellingson's family was told at the end of June that a final report would be available in three to four weeks.

It still has not been made public. Twelve weeks after his death and long after the arresting officer has been allowed to go back to work, there are still no answers about why Ellingson drowned in police custody.

Just as citizens of Ferguson, worry that the investigation of the death of Michael Brown will turn into a coverup of police misconduct, the same concerns swirl around Brandon Ellingson's death.

The trooper who arrested Ellingson had an obligation to keep him alive while transporting him across the lake. Suspects should not be able to fall or jump from a moving boat any more than they should be able to jump from a moving car. The Missouri Highway Patrol owes the public answers in the Ellingson case.

Copyright Des Moines Register. Reprinted with permission.


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