The family of Manuel Ellis is tired.
Tired of talking. Tired of crying. Tired of not getting answers.
In an emotional news conference Thursday outside the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma, the Tacoma man’s relatives criticized the ongoing investigation into Ellis’ death and demanded better.
“As a family, we want answers,” said his mother, Marcia Carter. “No more talking.”
The family has been seeking information since Ellis died March 3 while being restrained by police, not long after saying, “Can’t breathe.”
Four involved officers were placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday, for a second time, after a report from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office became public. They are Christopher Burbank, 34; Matthew Collins, 37; Masyih Ford, 28; and Timothy Rankine, 31.
Burbank and Collins are white. Ford is Black. Rankine is Asian.
The officers had been placed on leave immediately after the death of Ellis, a Black man, then returned to duty.
Medical examiners ruled Ellis’ death a homicide and said he died from a lack of oxygen because of physical restraint.
Methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease were listed as contributing factors.
“From New York to Minnesota to Washington state to Tacoma, Wash., too many young African-American men have said their last words,” said James Bible, the family’s attorney. “And those last words have been ‘I can’t breathe’ at the hand of police officers. That’s what we have with Manny.”
He accused Tacoma police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating Ellis’ death, of not being transparent and trying to paint Ellis in a negative light.
The Tacoma Police Department has declined to comment on the specifics of the case while it is under investigation.
On Thursday, Chief Don Ramsdell issued a statement.
In part, it reads, “We are committed to the investigative process and the integrity of the findings. We have fully cooperated and have been transparent with the current ongoing, independent investigation and will continue to do so for any additional investigations. Our hope is that any investigations bring with them answers for everyone involved.”
Tacoma Police Union IUPA Local 6, which represents rank-and-file officers, posted a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday, praising its members’ professionalism.
“Whatever happens, we will work to protect due process rights and presumptions of innocence for all of you, including Chris, Matt, Masyih, and Tim,” the post read. “As we continue to process everything that is going on in our communities right now, know that you are not alone, and that if you have any questions you can reach out to any member of your union board at any time.”
Loved ones have described Ellis as a jokester, a talented musician who played the drums at church four days a week and a loving father to his 18-month-old daughter and 11-year-old son.
They say he suffered from mental-health issues and struggled with addiction but was living in a clean-and-sober house and getting his life back on track.
The night he died, Ellis called his mother, brother and sister separately.
His last words to his mom, whom he called “madre,” were telling her he loved her.
“I can’t hear that ever again,” Carter said at the news conference, breaking into tears. “I won’t be able to hear that. My heart hurts.”
Carter said she cried for two months and 10 days straight, missing her son and desperate for answers about how he died.
On Thursday, the family was accompanied by members of the NAACP and Tacoma Action Collective.
Gerald Hankerson, president of the NAACP’s Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference, said he’s tired of “flashy words” from politicians and demanded change.
“A man was killed here at the hands of law enforcement, the people that you pay with your tax dollars,” Hankerson said. “How did you not know? A man died in your custody.”
Shortly after the news conference, the Tacoma City Council announced it will meet Friday to discuss requesting an independent review of Ellis’ death from Gov. Jay Inslee.
The news conference came on the heels of a vigil Wednesday night to honor Ellis, and days of protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
Many protesters and local activists have compared Ellis to George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 as a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Video of the incident showed Floyd saying he couldn’t breathe.
“If it wasn’t for me and Manny’s friend screaming at the top of our lungs, and George Floyd dying, this would have gotten brushed under the rug,” said Monet Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister. “I’m done. I don’t want to talk. I want answers for my brother, yesterday.”