Three Police Officers Charged In March 2020 Killing Of Manuel Ellis

Three Tacoma, Washington police officers have been charged in the death of Manuel Ellis last March. Ellis died after telling the officers he couldn’t breathe while being restrained, weeks before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson brought charges against the officers on Thursday (May 27), NPR reported. Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins were charged with second-degree murder charges. Timothy Rankine was charged with first-degree manslaughter after being accused of adding pressure on Ellis’ back despite Ellis saying he couldn’t breathe. A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Gary Sanders, is also being investigated for his role in restraining Ellis.

What Prosecutors Say Happened to Manuel Ellis

Warning: The following account includes graphic description of a deadly police encounter.

Police claimed they saw Ellis attempting to enter cars as he walked along a street on the night of March 3, 2020. Two witnesses who recorded part of the deadly encounter presented cell phone video and identical accounts that police attacked Ellis without being provoked. 

According to the witnesses, one of the officers sitting in the passenger side slammed the police cruiser’s door into Ellis, knocking him to the ground before the officer got out and started beating him. Police officials at the time claimed that none of the officers had their knee in Ellis’ back, but the bystander footage and nearby home surveillance video directly refutes those claims.

According to a report by The Washington Post, the three officers, all of whom are Army veterans, “hogtied” Ellis after having tased him twice, placing him in handcuffs, and putting a spit hood over his head. Ellis was in that position between six to nine minutes. When a paramedic arrived at the scene, they instructed Rankine to remove the restraint from Ellis so that medical aid could be rendered, but Rankine reportedly refused, telling the paramedic he didn’t want to take the handcuffs off Ellis “in case he starts fighting again,” Ferguson’s report said. Eventually, Rankine agreed to take the cuffs off, and the paramedic began performing CPR, before declaring Ellis dead. 

All three of the witnesses who were at the intersection where the fatal incident occurred said “Ellis was not fighting back,” the probable cause statement said. “They never saw Ellis strike at the officers.” 

Earlier that evening, prosecutors say Ellis had played drums at his church for a worship service and video called his mom before going out to get a snack from a nearby convenience store. 

The Work Left to Be Done

“This is the first step in our system of justice,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement on the charges against the officers. “This year, I signed more than 12 bills creating the most comprehensive police accountability laws in the nation. It is my fervent hope that we can avoid future incidents and deaths,” Inslee added.

Ellis’ family held a news conference Thursday (May 27) expressing their relief about the charges against the officers and the fight for continued police reforms

“I don’t want to sound selfish because this is a blessing that there are three officers getting charged, but it’s hard for me to be happy; it’s hard for me to want to celebrate because of so many things that are still currently being overlooked,” Ellis’ sister, Monet Carter-Mixon said. “There’s so much work that needs to be done.” 

Photo: Getty Images

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