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Police restraint caused man’s death in Tacoma, medical examiner says

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A medical examiner ruled that police restraint caused a man’s death in Tacoma earlier this year, The Tacoma News Tribune reported Wednesday.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old black man, died on March 3 of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint after Tacoma police handcuffed and restrained him on the ground.

Contributing factors to hypoxia, or deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues, can include methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, according to the News Tribune. Ellis, an openly struggling addict, had drugs in his system when he died, but they did not cause his death, according to the medical examiner’s ruling. 

The medical examiner ruled Ellis’s death as a homicide, so prosecutors will determine if police acted lawfully or criminally. 

The News Tribune’s report of the medical examiner’s ruling comes as protesters have taken to the streets in Tacoma to demonstrate against police brutality, racial inequality and the deaths of George Floyd and others who’ve died after encounters with police. 

At the time of Ellis’s death, officials said he appeared to suffer from excited delirium, which involves attempts at violence, unexpected strength and high body temperature. After allegedly harassing a woman and pounding on her car windows, he allegedly banged on a patrol car and attacked two officers who called for backup and then attempted to calm him.

“He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground,” Ed Troyer, the spokesman of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating the incident, told the News Tribune Tuesday. “He never tried to run, he engaged with the officers and started a fight.”

After firefighters had been on scene for a minute, Ellis was pronounced dead, investigators said, according to the News Tribune. 

The four officers involved in the detainment were originally put on administrative leave but had since returned to the department. After the department learned of the ruling, the four officers were placed on administrative leave again Wednesday, the Tacoma Police Department said in a release. 

The officers were identified as Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Masyih Ford and Timothy Rankine, according to the release. They had been in the department for four and a half years, five years, two years and two months, and one year and 10 months, respectively.

Two of the officers were white, while the other two were black and Asian. 

The sheriff’s department is expected to pass the case to the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office by next week.

James Bible, an attorney for the Ellis family, told The Hill that the medical examiner’s report is “clear” that Ellis “died at the hands of officers”

Bible added that the Tacoma Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office “operated in a shroud of secrecy” during the past few months. He said there is no video footage of Ellis’s detainment, but the radio scanner captured Ellis saying he couldn’t breathe.

“The harshest of realities is George Floyd is right here in Tacoma, and his name is Manny,” Bible told the News Tribune. 

Ellis’s family have raised more than $33,000 on a GoFundMe page to cover legal costs. 

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said he is waiting for the investigators’ final report on the death and sent condolences to Ellis’s family. 

“The safety of our community and everyone we serve is our foremost concern, and we regret that an individual lost his life under these unfortunate circumstances,” Ramsdell said in a statement obtained by the newspaper.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said her office is reviewing the report, which it received Tuesday.

“We will learn the results of that investigation even as our country reels from the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others,” Woodards said in a statement. “We look forward to the Sheriff’s swift completion of the investigation, and we will take appropriate steps based on the findings.”

Updated: 12:16 p.m.

Tags Black Lives Matter George Floyd George Floyd death George Floyd protests Homicide Manuel Ellis medical examiner Police police brutality Tacoma Tacoma Police Department Washington

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