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Three Washington police officers charged in Black man's death

Manuel Ellis died last year after repeatedly telling the officers he couldn’t breathe as he was being restrained.

Manuel Ellis Family photo

The Washington state attorney general charged two Tacoma police officers with murder and one with manslaughter in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died last year as he was being restrained. On Thursday (May 27), Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder and Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter.

Ellis died on March 3, 2020 after he was tasered, hogtied and handcuffed as the officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly “trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles.” Part of the arrest was caught on video by a bystander and Ellis could be heard yelling, “I can’t breathe.” A spit hood was also placed over his head.

The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide and said the cause of death was attributed to lack of oxygen from being restrained. His enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication were also listed as contributing factors.

Last June, Gov. Jay Inslee launched a new investigation into Ellis’ death. Five Tacoma police officers were placed on paid leave as the investigation continued.

Monet Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister, says she has mixed feelings about the indictment. “I’m in between because it took all this time and the AG and the consulting team explained why those officers would be charged with the most felonies,” she told The Seattle Times. “However, I still feel like the other officers, because of their involvement and based on their training, that they knew better, that they could have been charged.”

Ellis reportedly had a history of mental illness and addiction. Back in 2019, he allegedly attempted to rob a fast food restaurant naked. However, his landlord said that he had been doing better after seeking care for his schizophrenia.

According to Ferguson, this case marks the first time the attorney general’s office has charged police officers with unlawful use of deadly force. It’s the second time homicide charges have been filed in the state against law enforcement officers since Washington adopted Initiative 940, which makes it easier to prosecute cops in negligent shootings.

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