On Thursday (May 27), the Washington state attorney general charged two Tacoma police officers with murder and one with manslaughter in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man they were attempting to take into custody.
Ellis, 33, died after telling the officers he couldn’t breathe as he was being restrained on March 3, 2020. According to NPR, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed charges of second-degree murder against Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, and first-degree manslaughter against Timothy Rankine.
A probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court reveals witnesses claiming Burbank and Collins attacked Ellis without provocation while Rankine is accused of putting pressure on Ellis’ back as he said that he couldn’t breathe.
The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide and attributed it to a lack of oxygen from being restrained. NPR reports his final words – “I can’t breathe, sir!” – were captured by a home security camera.
“Ellis was not fighting back,” the probable cause statement said. “All three civilian witnesses at the intersection … state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.”
The encounter began after officers reported seeing Ellis trying to get into occupied cars at a red light. They claim Ellis charged officers as they exited their police cars. The witnesses, who recorded parts of the fatal incident, say Ellis did not provoke them. The officers, however, slammed a patrol car door into Ellis, knocking him down and then jumped on him while beating him.
Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer said at the time that none of the officers placed a knee on Ellis’ neck or head, which was disputed by one of the witness videos.