3 Tacoma officers charged in death of Manuel Ellis
Charges have been filed against three Tacoma police officers in the death of Manuel "Manny" Ellis in 2020.
Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died while being restrained by Tacoma police officers on March 3, 2020. Ellis can be heard telling officers he could not breathe in video footage that emerged from the encounter.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the charges against the three officers in Pierce County Superior Court Thursday morning, following an investigation that lasted nearly a year.
- Christopher Burbank has been charged with second degree murder
- Matthew Collins has been charged with second degree murder
- Timothy Rankine has been charged with first degree manslaughter
The standard sentence for second degree murder is 10 to 18 years, and the standard for first degree manslaughter is 6.5 to 8.5 years. The maximum sentence is life in prison.
Shortly after the charges were announced, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said “This is the first step in our system of justice."
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The Tacoma Police Officer's Union released a statement saying the charges are part of a "politically motivated witch hunt."
The Attorney General’s office is pointing out that this is the first time it has criminally charged a police officer with unlawful deadly force.
It is also the second time that homicide charges against a police officer have been filed in Washington state since the passing of I-940 in 2018. In King County, Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson is awaiting trial for second degree murder in the death of Jesse Sarey. I-940 was voter-approved and created a process for independent investigations and new standards for charging officers with misuse of deadly force.
Ellis died in Tacoma on March 3, 2020 after officers used a stun gun on him, punched him, and restrained him on the ground.
Officers said that Ellis provoked the encounter by trying to open car doors with people in them and assaulting an officer. Video emerged of the encounter that led to Ellis' death, showing officers punching him while on the ground, and Ellis saying he couldn't breathe. It occurred nearly three months before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was also captured on video telling officers that he could not breathe while they restrained him.
In June, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said that four officers involved in the encounter with Ellis should be fired and prosecuted.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Office was initially tasked with investigating the incident, but conflicts of interest arose after it became known that a Pierce County deputy was at the scene. Governor Inslee turned the review over to the Washington State Patrol, and then to Attorney General Bob Ferguson to determine whether any of the six officers involved should face criminal charges.
“The resulting charging decision that was made today by Attorney General Bob Ferguson is the result of that investigation," Inslee said Thursday. "This decision is within the authority of the Attorney General’s office and I look forward to a full briefing on their findings."
Pierce County’s medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide due to hypoxia, meaning Ellis couldn’t breathe when he was restrained by police. Methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease were cited as contributing factors in his death.
Ellis' family has filed a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma.