Story at a glance:

  • Three officers are charged in the death of a Black man who said he could not breathe.
  • The incident was recorded by people who say the man was randomly attacked.
  • A medical examination found the man died from a lack of oxygen from being restrained, and an enlarged heart and meth intoxication were contributing factors.

Three police officers in Washington state are facing felony charges in last year’s killing of a Black man, whose dying words were “I can’t breathe” after officers used a stun gun and handcuffed him and put pressure on his back. 

On Thursday, the state’s attorney general charged officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are white, with second-degree murder and officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian, with first-degree manslaughter, according to a release from the attorney general.


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It is the first time Washington’s attorney general has criminally charged officers for the unlawful use of deadly force, and the second time homicide charges have been filed in Washington against police officers since the state adopted Initiative 940 in 2018, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in the statement.

On March 3, 2020, witnesses reported that Burbank and Collins randomly attacked Manuel Ellis that night, according to a probable cause statement reported by the New York Post.

Rankine is accused of putting pressure on Ellis’s back despite Ellis saying he couldn’t breath. The officers also reportedly used a Taser and handcuffed Ellis and covered his face with a spit hood. 

Ellis said “Can’t breathe, sir!” according to a video captured by a home security camera. 

“Ellis was not fighting back,” the attorney general filing says. “All three civilian witnesses at the intersection … state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.”

The Pierce County medical examiner ruled that his death was a homicide, due to lack of oxygen from being restrained. The examiner also noted an enlarged heart and meth intoxication were contributing factors, according to the New York Post. 

Burbank and Collins said that Ellis was trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles stopped at a red light. The officers also say Ellis punched the cruiser’s window. 

Two witnesses who recorded the encounter say the police attacked without provocation, the New York Post reports. 

The officers have been on administrative leave since June. It is not clear whether they are in custody. A fourth officer was also placed on administrative leave. 

If found guilty, Burbank and Collins could face at least 10 to 18 years for second-degree murder if they have a clean criminal history, and Rankine could face between 6 1/2 and 8 1/2 years for manslaughter. 


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Published on May 28, 2021