The Washington Attorney General on May 27 charged three Tacoma Police Department officers for the March 2020 killing of Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder and Timothy Rankine of first-degree manslaughter. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The charges come more than a year after the medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death as a homicide, which followed months of information from law enforcement officials that contradicted with accounts from eyewitnesses and audio and visual evidence.
According to the statement of probable cause, Ellis was on his way home at around 11:21 p.m. from a convenience store on March 3, 2020 when he encountered Burbank and Collins.
Witnesses described the encounter to be like “a casual conversation” until Burbank suddenly used the passenger door of the police car to knock Ellis down on his knees from behind.
Videos of the scene, as well as accounts from eyewitness, revealed that the officers tackled and repeatedly struck Ellis on the head.
Evidence also showed that the officers repeatedly fired their tasers on Ellis, applied a neck restraint, pinned onto him with the weight of their bodies, and hog-tied him.
During the minutes Collins and Burbank pressed down on Ellis, Rankine arrived on the scene and applied pressure on Ellis’ back.
Throughout the attack, Ellis pleaded, “I can’t breathe, sir,” as shown by audio evidence on the scene.
Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark determined that Ellis died of “hypoxia due to physical restraint.”
The decision is the first time the office has criminally charged police officers for the unlawful use of deadly force and the second time it has filed homicide charges in the state against law enforcement officers since November 2018.
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