In new video released Tuesday, Manuel Ellis can be heard crying out while being restrained by Tacoma police.
The nearly nine-minute clip was taken from a Ring doorbell security camera at a house across the street from the intersection of 96th Street South and Ainsworth Avenue South, where Ellis died March 3.
It shows the scene from a different angle than witness video released last week where a woman driving by yelled at officers to stop hitting Ellis and just arrest him.
“What we learned from that (Ring) video is not just that Manny Ellis said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ What we learned is he said, ‘I can’t breathe, sir,’” the family’s attorney, James Bible, said at a news conference in Tacoma on Tuesday. “A clear sign that it’s not only a struggle for breath but an attempt to still be respectful in your last moments of life. A sign that he wasn’t the aggressive person law enforcement claimed he was.”
The video reinvigorated the family’s demand for an investigation independent from the one currently being done by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Investigators are expected to present the case to Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett on Wednesday.
Although Robnett invited state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to join that meeting, he declined concurrent jurisdiction and said his review must remain separate from local prosecutors’ review.
The Sheriff’s Department has said it welcomes an independent investigation.
Bible said sheriff’s investigators have repeatedly changed their story about what happened in the moments leading up to Ellis’ death and have not been transparent.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Tuesday: “If there’s any reason there’s a conflict, we would bow out. In the past, we’ve done proper investigations and held people accountable.”
Troyer confirmed to The News Tribune last week that investigators collected the Ring doorbell footage and planned to present it as part of their case.
Investigators said state law prohibits them from releasing evidence, including videos, to the public until prosecutors review the case.
That did not mollify Bible.
“They’ve done damage to trust in this community in terms of legitimacy in policing, and we simply can’t trust their investigations,” he said. “As a result, if the state is hearing this, if the governor is hearing this, the governor has a responsibility to all people, including Manny Ellis.”
Last week, the Tacoma City Council asked Gov. Jay Inslee to guarantee an independent, thorough review on the Ellis case. Inslee asked the Washington State Patrol to look over the Pierce County sheriff’s work and the Attorney General’s Office to review local prosecutors’ charging decisions, if any, on the four involved officers.
Ellis’ family said that doesn’t go far enough and continues to demand a separate investigation.
Their attorney said witnesses often don’t feel comfortable coming forward to speak with local law enforcement officers about possible police misconduct, and appointing authorities not tied to Pierce County might bring out more information.
Although Ellis’ mother, brother and sister were present at the news conference, they did not speak.
As video clips played on a large screen and Ellis’ pained cries could be heard, his siblings stared straight ahead with the hands of supporters on their shoulders.
His mother, Marcia Carter, left the room in tears.
In one video, Bible says officers can be heard telling Ellis to shut up.
“Those were likely the last words Manny Ellis heard as he was in a place where he was begging for his life,” Bible said.
Recordings were too garbled for The News Tribune to be certain what police said in response to Ellis saying, “Can’t breathe.”
Ellis’ death was ruled a homicide by hypoxia due to physical restraint, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office. Hypoxia is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues.
The autopsy findings indicate Ellis had a dangerous amount of methamphetamine in his system and heart disease, but more significant factors were likely restraint, body positioning and a spit mask placed over Ellis’ mouth.
After a struggle with police, officers handcuffed Ellis and used hobbles — a canvas strap — around his legs.
Tacoma police identified the four officers involved in restraining Ellis as Christopher Burbank, 34; Matthew Collins, 37; Masyih Ford, 28; and Timothy Rankine, 31. They are on administrative leave.
Burbank and Collins are white. Ford is black. Rankine is Asian.
Only two officers can be seen in the witness’ video, and it is unclear at what point the other two joined the encounter.
As the witness drove away, she took a second video clip that appeared to show Ellis subdued and two officers asking him to put his hands behind his back.
Mayor Victoria Woodards has called for the officers to be fired and prosecuted.
Police union representatives responded by calling her remarks “inflammatory” and asking that judgment be withheld until the investigation is completed and reviewed.