Jurors hear details of Manny Ellis’ final moments as Tacoma officers trial begins

Jurors hear details of Manny Ellis’ final moments as Tacoma officers trial begins
via GoFundMe, Tacoma Police Department
Michelle De Pacina
October 4, 2023
At the trial of three Tacoma police officers accused in the death of Manny Ellis, jurors heard his last words as he was punched, tased, placed in a chokehold and held face down. 
Prosecutor’s opening statements: During the opening statements on Tuesday morning, Washington Assistant Attorney General Kent Liu described Ellis’ last words in March 2020 as, “I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe.”
Liu stated that when paramedics arrived at the scene, they found Ellis unresponsive with fixed eyes and dilated pupils. The prosecutor argued that Ellis did not die from an overdose, as the defense claims, but rather from oxygen starvation caused by the actions of the officers.
According to Liu, Ellis was walking home late at night when he had an encounter with the police. Before the alleged attack by the officers, the 33-year-old Black man had played the drums at church, then called some friends and his mother before going on a snack run to 7-Eleven.
“Four witnesses will tell you Mr. Ellis never fought back,” Liu said, according to Komo News. “We are here today because this should not have happened. Mr. Ellis did nothing wrong.”
What happened: The incident occurred in Pierce County, Washington, on March 3, 2020, when Ellis exited the convenience store and encountered Tacoma officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins sitting in a patrol car.
According to the probable cause statement, the officers tackled and punched Ellis. They also used a stun gun on him, held him face down on the sidewalk and put a spit-hood over his head.
Several officers reportedly responded to the scene, including Asian American police officer Timothy Rankine and his partner Masiyh Ford. While Rankine and other officers were accused of sitting on Ellis, Rankine was reportedly the only officer who admitted to hearing the man’s last words: “I can’t breathe.” Charging documents revealed that Rankine also ignored orders given by responding medics to get off Ellis.
Ellis’ cause of death: Experts that were initially hired by the officers claimed methamphetamine and heart problems were the cause of Ellis’ death, but the Pierce County Medical Examiner noted that the man’s death was a homicide and was caused by a lack of oxygen “due to physical restraint.”
Murder charges: Burbank and Collins were charged with second-degree murder, while Rankine is facing first-degree manslaughter charges. In 2021, all three officers pleaded not guilty. They were freed on bail and were still employed by the Tacoma Police Department on paid leave.
Key details of the trial: The officers’ trial, which began on Monday, is expected to run four days per week until December. The trial is the first under a Washington state law aimed at making it easier to prosecute police for wrongful use of deadly force. Video evidence and witness statements will play a central role in the case. 
Ellis’ sister insists he is not on trial so that the focus should be on the police officers and the alleged brutality they inflicted on him, “not defaming my brother’s character when he can’t defend himself.”
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