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story.lead_photo.caption Col. Sandra Karsten, at left, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, whose retirement from that agency was announced the previous week, was named the director of the Department of Public Safety during a morning news conference Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in Gov. Mike Parson's Capitol office. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

A Cole County court on Tuesday granted former Missouri Highway Patrol trooper Anthony Piercy access to communications between then-Highway Patrol Superintendent Sandra Karsten and the father of a man who died in May 2014 while in Piercy's custody on the Lake of the Ozarks.

Brandon Ellingson, 20, of Clive, Iowa, drowned May 31, 2014, after Piercy arrested him for boating while intoxicated, handcuffed him and placed the wrong kind of life vest on him — Ellingson drowned, despite Piercy's attempts to save him, after he fell into the lake and the vest came off.

The Western District Court of Appeals agreed last month with Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce that Karsten had overstepped her authority in firing Piercy in 2017, after a five-officer patrol review team had unanimously recommended Piercy be reinstated as a trooper but transferred from Troop F in Jefferson City to another location in the state.

The appeals court ruling did not resolve Piercy's attempt to receive his back pay, however, and his attorneys argued the request for communications between Karsten and Brandon Ellingson's father is relevant "to what Karsten did or didn't consider when denying the request for back pay" and to "whether the state's position was 'substantially justified' for purposes of seeking attorneys' fees."

Joyce on Tuesday limited the scope of communications to be accessed to when Karsten was still superintendent.

Karsten was promoted to the position by then-Gov. Eric Greitens in February 2017 and was later appointed by Gov. Mike Parson in August 2018 to become director of Missouri's Department of Public Safety.

Local media reported after Piercy's firing in December 2017 that Ellingson's father had received a letter from Karsten that briefly explained the hearing process in the administrative charges brought against Piercy related to Brandon's death, that it had been determined through that process Piercy's actions warranted discipline, the final decision was for Karsten to make and Piercy was fired.

Piercy is separately challenging the state's decision to revoke his peace officer's license, and a lawsuit on that was filed in Cole County Circuit Court in June. There were no scheduled hearings in that case as of Tuesday afternoon, according to online court records.

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