'I Can't Breathe': Death Of Black Man In Tacoma Police Custody Ruled A Homicide

Thursday, June 4th 2020, 10:20 am
By: CBS News

TACOMA, Wash. -

Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that he and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards will push to make sure there is a "full and complete investigation into the death" of Manuel Ellis, who died on March 3 in handcuffs while being restrained on the ground by Tacoma police.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office determined that Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia due to physical restraint, The News Tribune reported. Contributing factors included methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly known as an enlarged heart. The Medical Examiner also ruled Ellis' death a homicide.

CBS affiliate KIRO-TV reports a 12-minute police radio recording taken the night of Ellis' death gives a glimpse into his encounter with officers. Police can be heard calling for an ambulance and telling dispatchers Ellis will need to be strapped down.

At one point, Ellis can be heard saying, "I can't breathe." 

Tacoma police said they cannot comment on the recording because the case is still an active investigation.

"The harshest of realities is George Floyd is right here in Tacoma, and his name is Manny," attorney James Bible, who is representing Ellis' family, told the newspaper.

KIRO-TV reported at the time of his March 3 death, officials said Ellis appeared to be suffering from excited delirium, which often includes attempts at violence, unexpected strength and very high body temperature. They said that might have explained why Ellis allegedly banged on a patrol car and attacked two officers trying to calm him down.

Protesters in Tacoma have marched for several days against police brutality and racial inequality, demanding justice for Floyd, Ellis and others who have died at the hands of police.

There are similarities in the deaths of Ellis and Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

On the night Ellis died, police encountered him at 11:22 p.m. as he was walking home, harassing a woman at an intersection, police said. When two officers in the area asked what he was doing, police say Ellis said he had warrants and wanted to talk to them, police said.

Then he repeatedly struck their patrol car, police said. The two officers inside called for backup then got out of the car.

"He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground," said Ed Troyer, spokesman of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the incident.

There was a struggle before police got Ellis handcuffed on the ground and officers called for paramedics at 11:25 p.m.

Within a minute of firefighters arriving, Ellis stopped breathing and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

His cause of death was initially listed as pending while medical examiners ran toxicology tests.

This week, Tacoma police identified the four officers involved in restraining Ellis as Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Masyih Ford and Timothy Rankine.

Burbank and Collins are white while Ford is black and Rankine is Asian. All four were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident. They since have returned to duty.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell said he is awaiting investigators' final report on Ellis' death. The case is expected to be forwarded to the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office by next week.

KIRO-TV reported that hundreds gathered at a vigil for Ellis late Wednesday.

First published on June 4, 2020 / 7:49 AM

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