Two of the officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Manuel Ellis, who died in police custody on March 3, 2020, after police restrained him

By Steve Helling
May 28, 2021 03:06 PM
Manuel Ellis
Credit: GoFundMe

Three police officers in Tacoma, Wash., are facing felony charges stemming from the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died after he was handcuffed and restrained in custody last year.

Ellis, 33, was stopped by police on March 3, 2020, after authorities alleged he was harassing a woman at an intersection. At the time of his death, officials told KIRO-TV that Ellis appeared to be suffering from excited delirium, which often includes increased strength and violent actions.

Police also initially said Ellis allegedly banged on a patrol car and attacked two police officers who were trying to calm him down.

But probable cause documents obtained by NBC News allege officers were unprovoked when they became physical with Ellis. They allegedly slammed him to the ground, punched him repeatedly and hogtied him. He was heard on video repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe."

According to a statement from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins have been charged with second-degree murder. Officer Timothy Rankine was charged with first-degree manslaughter.

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In the statement, Ferguson references cellphone video of the altercation, and alleges that officer Collins struck Ellis at last four times in the head. The statement also alleges that Collins "locked his hands together while squeezing his arm around Ellis's neck, applying what is called a 'lateral vascular neck restraint.'"

The statement alleges that while Collins had Ellis in a neck restraint, Burbank Tasered him. According to the statement, Ellis allegedly screams "Can't breathe, sir. Can't breathe." One of the officer allegedly responds with "shut the f--- up."

According to the statement, Officer Rankine later arrived at the scene and put his weight on Ellis as other officers hogtied him. The statement says that recordings of the incident capture Ellis' "agonal breathing" during the encounter. They later place a hood over his head.

Ellis stopped breathing during the encounter. The fire department arrived and attempted to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Warrants have been issued for the officers' arrests. The suspects have not entered pleas and it was not immediately clear if any had retained attorneys.

The Tacoma Police Department said it will conduct an internal investigation before deciding if disciplinary actions should be taken.