State Watch

Three officers charged in killing of Manuel Ellis

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Three officers involved in the killing of Manuel Ellis during his arrest will face charges, the Washington state Attorney General’s office announced on Thursday.

The office said it charged Tacoma Police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder and officer Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter. The charges were filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) in Pierce County Superior Court. 

The office said the second-degree murder charge for persons with no prior criminal history can carry a standard prison sentence ranging from 10-18 years. The standard sentencing range for the first-degree manslaughter charge with no previous criminal history is 6.5 to 8.5 years.

“The maximum sentence for both offenses is life in prison,” the office said Thursday, adding that warrants have been issued for the arrests of the three officers.

The attorney general’s office said the move marks the first time in history that it has criminally charged police officers for the unlawful use of deadly force. 

The three officers, along with another officer, Masyih Ford, were placed on leave after a county medical examiner ruled Ellis’s primary cause of death was due to restraint applied during his arrest.  

Ellis, 33, died in March 2020 during arrest by Tacoma Police.

Bystander footage taken during the arrest showed law enforcement repeatedly punching Ellis as they pinned him to the ground.

He was hogtied, shocked with a stun gun and had a spit mask placed on his head, The Seattle News reported

Local officials claimed he harassed a woman prior to his arrest, and hit her car windows. They also alleged that he banged on a patrol car and attacked two officers who called for backup. 

“He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground,” a spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said at the time. “He never tried to run, he engaged with the officers and started a fight.”

The case drew scrutiny following the death of George Floyd, whose killing in May 2020 led to months of nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. Like Floyd, Ellis was also reportedly in handcuffs at the time of his death and lost consciousness.

Before he became unresponsive, Ellis said, “I can’t breathe.”

Ellis’s case attracted attention last summer after attorneys for the officers involved claimed in a statement to local media that “no one choked Mr. Ellis” during the arrest. However, bystander footage obtained by a local NBC affiliate showed Ellis in an apparent chokehold.

Attorney James Bible, who represents Ellis’s family, accused police of “perpetuating a false narrative” of what happened during the arrest” in a statement to the local station. 

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined last June that police restraint caused Ellis’s death, ruling it a homicide. The office said his cause of death was respiratory arrest due to hypoxia. The report also listed methamphetamine intoxication as a contributing factor. 

At the time of Ellis’s death, officials also claimed that he appeared to suffer from excited delirium, a controversial used during the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, the white officer convicted in the killing of Floyd. 

The American Medical Association defines the term as the death of people “who are combative and in a highly agitated state” and is “often associated with stimulant use and certain psychiatric disorders.”

Authorities said Thomas Lane, one of the officers involved in the arrest that led to Floyd’s death, had raised concerns about the syndrome as officers restrained him.

According to a report from the Brookings Institution, the syndrome has been disproportionately used in cases involving Black people and law enforcement encounters.

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