JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Anthony Piercy, the former trooper fired for his actions that led to a man's drowning, is suing the Highway Patrol to get his job back.
Piercy filed a petition for judicial review in Cole County court on Dec. 29. The lawsuit claims Col. Sandra Karsten overstepped her authority when she decided to fire Piercy two weeks prior.
Karsten took action more than three years after Brandon Ellingson drowned at the Lake of the Ozarks while in Piercy's custody for boating while intoxicated. Piercy pleaded guilty to negligent operation of a vessel in June for using the wrong type of life jacket on Ellingson while he was handcuffed. Ellingson drowned when he went overboard during the transport. Judge Roger Prokes sentenced Piercy to two years of supervised probation and 10 days in jail.
According to the lawsuit, a patrol personnel board recommended that Piercy be allowed to come back to the Highway Patrol, and recommended he be transferred out of the area serving most of mid-Missouri and the Lake of the Ozarks. Karsten, instead, decided to fire Piercy. The lawsuit, written by Jefferson City attorney Tim Van Rozelen, said the superintendent can only fire a patrol member if a majority of the board recommends it.
"[Karsten]'s Final Decision, which is contrary to the unanimous recommendation of the Review Board, is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, and constitutes an abuse of discretion in that the decision is not consistent with past MSHP practice, procedure and interpretation because historically MSHP superintendents have only terminated members of the Patrol is a Review Board recommends such actions," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also calls for the patrol to pay Piercy for the time spent on leave. The patrol put Piercy on unpaid leave the day a special prosecutor charged him with involuntary manslaughter. Three days after the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor on June 27, attorneys for Piercy began asking the patrol to reinstate him, according to the lawsuit. They asked again the day Piercy was sentenced. On Dec. 15, the day of his firing, Col. Karsten told them that the patrol would not be giving him back pay or benefits for the time he spent on leave.
The six-person personnel board decided that Piercy had violated state law and two internal patrol rules. One of the two internal violations, though, came from an incident in 2008. Piercy forged the initials of someone to put them on the Missouri Gaming Commission's List of Disassociated Persons. Piercy was demoted for this after "being untruthful to his supervisor about the legitimacy of the initials," according to the panel's report.
"The conduct of Trooper Piercy in the foregoing charges is in direct violation of General Orders and Missouri statutes, in that it demonstrates a disregard for the laws of this state, tarnishes the Patrol's reputation, undermines the public's confidence in the Patrol and brings discredit upon the member," the ruling said.
Karsten wrote that other law enforcement officials had concerns about continuing to work with Piercy. Those included the Morgan County sheriff, and prosecutors in Morgan and Moniteau counties. His commanding officer, according to Karsten, said that he did not believe Piercy shoudl continue working as a road officer.
Piercy returned to work at the patrol in June 2014, just five days after Ellingson's drowning. In that time, according to the review board, Piercy earned a "work recognition award" in that time, as well. An employee review in 2014 from Piercy's rating supervisor said that the trooper "'should make safety a higher priority,'" according to Karsten's memo.
The lawsuit claims Karsten relied too heavily on Piercy's commanding officer in making her decision, violating his rights to due process.