Two Tacoma police officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis have been accused of wrongfully arresting and using excessive force in an unrelated incident three months before their fatal encounter with Ellis.
Timothy “Timmy” Rankine, 32, and Masyih Ford, 29, are named in a new tort claim against the city of Tacoma, stemming from the Dec. 14, 2019 arrest of Dustin Dean, now 28. A cellphone video of the incident shows the officers dragging Dean down a flight of stairs before Rankine kneels on his back as he lies prone, complaining that the officers are hurting him.
The tort claim, a precursor to filing a lawsuit, seeks $500,000 in damages. Barring a settlement from the city, Dean intends to file a federal civil rights claim against the city and the officers, according to Dean’s lawyer, James Bible.
Bible also represents Ellis’ family in a separate $30 million tort claim against the city and the officers who restrained Ellis on the night he died.
In May, Rankine was charged with manslaughter and two other Tacoma officers were charged with murder and manslaughter in Ellis’ death. In that case, eyewitness video undercut officers’ statements that Ellis posed a threat, thereby justifying their use of force.
The charges against the three officers matched in one day the number of officers prosecuted in Washington for deadly use of force over the past 40 years, making the Ellis case a historic test of new police accountability laws.
On the night of Dean’s arrest, he and his girlfriend, Vanessa Henriquez-Ray, say, they were having a loud argument in their apartment after coming from a holiday party. In an interview, they insisted it was lighthearted: He adored the crab cakes served at the party; she wasn’t fond of them.
Rankine and Ford responded after two neighbors called 911 just after midnight. The officers heard Henriquez-Ray yelling, leading them to believe she “was in distress and immediate police intervention was necessary,” according to Ford’s report. Ford noted that the officers announced themselves and didn’t get an answer, so they opened the slightly ajar front door and let themselves in. Dean came down the hall, confused about why the officers were there.
Dean was “displaying threat indicators” in the way he stood and held his hands, so officers tried to handcuff him and said they were investigating a domestic disturbance, according to Ford’s report.
In an interview, Dean said the officers did not explain themselves, which is why he passively resisted their attempts to cuff him by keeping his arms out of the officers’ reach.
When Dean stepped outside, to the top of a staircase, Ford said in his report he became scared that Dean would throw him down the stairs. “I grabbed Dean by his ponytail and forced his head to the ground… and then pulled him down the stairs by his right leg,” Ford wrote. Dean tried to get up and Ford again forced him to the ground by grabbing his hair, the report said.
By then, Henriquez-Ray and her teenage daughter began recording with her cellphone. On the video, the women can be heard screaming and begging the officers to stop dragging Dean down the stairs. Rankine applied a chokehold that muffled Dean’s repeated screams of, “I can’t breathe!”
Ellis said the same words the night he died, and charging documents against Rankine from the Ellis case said he willfully ignored Ellis’ desperate pleas as well.
On a landing, the officers gained control of Dean, and he calmed down at Henriquez-Ray’s urging.
“I was really short of breath,” Dean said. “That’s when I felt like my life was in danger, when he had his knee in my back.”
Ford acknowledged in his report that when Henriquez-Ray didn’t follow the officers’ commands to go back into her apartment, he aimed his Taser at her because she and her daughter tried to “grab us and push us away from Dean.”
Henriquez-Ray, a paralegal, emphatically denied that she or her daughter touched the officers in any way.
“It’s another similarity to the Ellis case, the discrepancies in the officers’ stories,” she said, “It says in the police report that I was grabbing and pushing them. When? Where? Why wasn’t I taken to jail if I did that?”
Rankine’s attorney in the criminal case, Bryan Hershman of Tacoma, said he is not familiar with the details of Dean’s tort claim and declined to comment about it.
But Hershman called Rankine “a humble warrior,” a military veteran who joined the Tacoma Police Department “at a very untimely moment in our history to be a police officer, let alone a police officer who’s involved in an arrest when someone dies.”
Michael Staropoli, a Portland lawyer listed as Ford’s attorney, did not respond to messages seeking comment about the tort claim.
City of Tacoma spokesperson Maria Lee declined to comment about Dean’s claim because it is pending litigation.
The four Tacoma officers involved in Ellis’ death — Matthew Collins, 38, and Christopher “Shane” Burbank, 35, both charged with first-degree murder and manslaughter, and Rankine and Ford — remain on paid leave while TPD completes an internal investigation. A fifth officer, Armando “Manny” Farinas, 27, was placed on leave in December after a Washington State Patrol’s investigation revealed that he had also helped restrain Ellis. Farinas and Ford were not charged.
Henriquez-Ray said the December 2019 incident was “the most horrific five-minute ordeal I have ever witnessed.”
“I used to have a really good relationship with the Tacoma Police Department, beginning with participating in DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] when I was in school. Now, I’d rather die than call 911. Not in Tacoma. Never again.”