Three Tacoma, Washington, police officers have been charged in the death of a black man who died while in police custody last year.
Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins were both charged with second-degree murder, and Timothy Rankine was charged with first-degree manslaughter in the March 3, 2020 death of 33-year-old Manuel Ellis. The charges were issued by Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson.
Ellis died after telling the officers that he couldn’t breathe as he was being restrained in police custody.
His death was ruled as homicide by the Pierce County medical examiner, and was attributed to a lack of oxygen from being restrained. An enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication were also listed as contributing factors to his death.
On March 3 last year, police stopped Ellis for allegedly attempting to get in a car that was occupied by another individual. Officers claimed the 33-year-old had been aggressive and combative.
Witnesses say Ellis was walking home from a store with water and a box of donuts when Burbank knocked him to the ground with the door of his squad car, then tackled and beat him.
Video footage taken by witnesses shows Collins restraining Ellis by the neck as Burbank fires his stun gun into the prone man’s chest.
All three officers held Ellis to the ground and handcuffed him as he called out “I can’t breathe!” prosecutors said in their statement. He was declared dead at the scene, they said.
Ferguson said that the case marks the first time the attorney general’s office has charged police officers with unlawful use of deadly force.
“This year, I signed more than 12 bills creating the most comprehensive police accountability laws in the nation. It is my fervent hope that we can avoid future incidents and deaths,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
Ellis’s family said at a press briefing Thursday that more must be done to overhaul the criminal justice system.
“The criminal system needs to be made over, from the head—just take it all off,” Ellis’s mother, Marcia Carter-Patterson, said. “This is about Manuel Elijah Ellis. This is his work. So help us with it.”
It comes days after Inslee signed a dozen law enforcement police reform measures into law on May 18, claiming they will boost accountability in policing and address “systemic racism” in the state, calling it a “moral mandate.”
The package of bills signed by the Democratic governor includes outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants, and also requires police officers to intervene if a colleague engages in excessive force.
It also requires the establishment of an independent office to review the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. Police must also use “reasonable care,” such as de-escalation tactics, in carrying out their duties.
The legislation restricts the use of tear gas and car chases, and makes it easier to sue officers when they cause injury.
State Sen. Mike Padden, the ranking Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, called the legislation “hostile to law enforcement,” taking particular issue with the ban on neck restraints, arguing that the method can be safe and effective if used properly.
Reuters contributed to this report.