Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday pledged an independent state review of the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed in March while he was being arrested and restrained by Tacoma police.
The Pierce County Sheriff has been reviewing the case and is close to completing its investigation, Inslee said. That review will be forwarded to the Pierce County prosecutor, who will determine if charges will be filed against any of the four officers involved in the arrest.
Inslee, in a news release Friday evening, said he has directed the State Patrol to review the county sheriff’s investigation, after it is completed. Then, Inslee said, he will grant Attorney General Bob Ferguson authority to review the investigation to “determine whether any different charging decisions need to be made.”
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards on Thursday night directed the city manager to fire the four officers and called for them to be prosecuted to “the fullest extent of the law.”
The officers — Christopher Burbank, 34; Matthew Collins, 37; Masyih Ford, 28; and Timothy Rankine, 31 — were placed on administrative leave after Ellis’ death on March 3, but had since returned to duty. They were again placed on administrative leave Wednesday morning.
“We know that Manuel Ellis was one of far, far too many Black men who died while in police custody in America, including here in Washington state,” Inslee said Friday evening in a prepared statement. “Washingtonians deserve every assurance that investigations and charging decisions related to police shootings and deaths of people in police custody are handled with urgency, independence and commitment to justice.”
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett, Friday evening, said she would prefer that Ferguson is given concurrent control of the case, while her office reviews it, rather than waiting until after. She said granting Ferguson’s office jurisdiction only after she reviews the case will only delay matters.
“I told the Governor’s Office it is a mistake,” Robnett said in a prepared statement. “The Ellis family wants answers, and the greater community has great interest in this case.”
The case has shifted rapidly this week in the wake of the nationwide protests against police violence and institutional racism.
A medical examiner’s report released Wednesday concluded that Ellis died from a lack of oxygen due to physical restraint and ruled the death a homicide. It also listed methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as factors.
On Thursday, video emerged publicly of Ellis’ arrest and restraint.
In the video, shot by a bystander, Ellis can be seen falling on his back, struggling with officers on top of him. “Oh my God, stop hitting him, just arrest him,” the woman filming the video yells.
“Today, it stops in Tacoma,” Woodards said after the video was released, The (Tacoma) News Tribune reported. “In this moment, at this time, based on the information that I know today, the officers’ actions we saw on this video tonight only confirm that Manuel Ellis’ death was a homicide.”