Candlelight Vigils Mark Birthday of Brandon Ellingson, Young Man Drowned in Police Custody

Share this with your friends

Sunday, December 7th, 2014, was Brandon Ellingson’s 21st birthday. Unlike many mothers on this auspicious day, Sherry Henrickson Ellingson didn’t spend the evening pacing and fretting that her son might be getting too drunk with his friends. Instead, she attended one of the multiple candlelit vigils being held in his memory.

Brandon Ellingson 2

Brandon Ellingson

Brandon Ellingson drowned while in police custody earlier this year. He was in his third year of college at Arizona State University and was out drinking and boating with friends at The Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. They were stopped by members of the Missouri Highway/Water Patrol and arrested under suspicion of boating while intoxicated. Brandon was handcuffed and suited with a life jacket that did not actually fit him. The officers proceeded to drive away at very high speeds.  When they hit a wave, Brandon was thrown from the boat and his life jacket was torn off of him.

Witness reports indicate Brandon struggled to stay afloat while handcuffed for more than four minutes before an officer jumped in to assist him.  Brandon was not saved; his body was pulled out of the water the following morning. Witnesses report Brandon was polite and compliant, but officers claimed he jumped out of the boat intentionally. They were not charged in his death, a decision made after an internal investigation.

Unsurprisingly, although the boat had a camera, there were no memory cards in place at the time of the incident, meaning there is no official video record of Brandon’s death.

Witnesses report Brandon was polite and compliant, but officers claimed he jumped out of the boat intentionally.

Vigils were held in three states on Sunday in honor of Brandon’s life and death. One was held at Valley High School, Brandon’s former school, in Des Moines, Iowa. Another was held in Lake Ozark, Missouri, where Brandon died, and the third was held in Tempe, Arizona, where Brandon was attending college. In memory of the unconscionable amount of time that Brandon struggled before he died, each location (and those joining in from home in an act of solidarity) observed four minutes and thirty seconds of silence.

Brandon’s family and eyewitnesses to his death maintain that the official record was intentionally altered and that facts of his death are being deliberately misrepresented. In the words of Larry Moreau, an eyewitness to Brandon’s death:

“A simple misplaced few dollar memory card gave way for the story to be told only through the eyes of the investigators seemingly blessed with such intuition they were able to piece the entire event together without the aid or acknowledgement of eye witness testimony, their own GPS data or even the video footage that actually survived. We only wish it was as easy for us to forget what we saw as it was for them to so flippantly disregard…When the inquest finally took place and the investigative findings were disclosed our hearts sank. There was a vast difference between our eye witness account and the Patrol’s findings. We attempted to inform the public that they were being deceived through the press.”

Brandon was not saved; his body was pulled out of the water the following morning.

The story of Brandon Ellingson is a tragic one. It also highlights the flaw in current plans to increase police accountability by funding body cameras on all officers. While such cameras may seem like a deterrent to police brutality and gross negligence. in reality, those cameras have a tendency to “malfunction” when they are needed the most.

Readers who haven’t already done so can sign the petition demanding a full investigation into Brandon’s death. There is also a Justice for Brandon Ellingson Facebook page where updates about the family’s efforts are regularly post.

For other coverage of police-related deaths on Ladybud, click here.

Photo Credit: The Justice for Brandon Ellingson Facebook page