Three Washington state police officers, acquitted of criminal charges in the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis, are set to receive $500,000 each as part of “voluntary separation” agreements to leave the Tacoma Police Department.
How Ellis died: On March 3, 2020, Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, was walking home with doughnuts when he was confronted at a red light and subsequently arrested by officers Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine. Video evidence captured part of the fatal encounter, with the officers violently beating Ellis as he pleaded for a breath in a surrender position.
When he died while in their custody, the officers alleged Ellis displayed aggressive behavior, a claim that witnesses later contradicted. Attorneys for the officers contended that Ellis died from methamphetamine in his system and a pre-existing heart condition.
Acquittals and payouts: In May 2021, Burbank and Collins were charged with second-degree murder, while Rankine, an Asian American, was charged with first-degree manslaughter related to Ellis’ death. They were all cleared of charges in Dec. 2023 after a two-month trial, reported CBS News.
Police Chief Avery Moore announced that an internal investigation found none of the officers violated the use-of-force policy in effect during Ellis’ arrest, though Collins was found to have violated a policy concerning courtesy. On Jan.16, it was revealed that each of the officers would receive $500,000 plus other standard payouts and benefits from the Tacoma Police Department in exchange for their resignations, reported the New York Times. According to City Manager Elizabeth Pauli, the officers’ “voluntary resignations” supported a “constructive path forward.”
“Reward” for death: Matthew Ericksen, an attorney for Ellis’ family, labeled the payouts as “perverse,” arguing that the officers are being “rewarded” for Ellis’ death, reported the Associated Press. Ericksen pointed out that the officers had already received approximately $1.5 million in paid leave during the four years leading up to the acquittal.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle announced last week that it is reviewing the case, potentially opening the door to federal civil rights charges against the officers, according to the Seattle Times. The Justice Department’s specific focus in this review remains undisclosed.