Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson plans to announce Thursday whether any of the six law enforcement officers who helped restrain Manuel Ellis last year in Tacoma will face criminal charges for Ellis’ death.
Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, after being shocked with a Taser, restrained, hogtied and hooded in a spit mask following a confrontation with Tacoma police. His last words, captured on a bystander’s video, were, “I can’t breathe, sir!”
The Pierce County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, with oxygen deprivation as a primary cause and methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as contributing factors.
The fatal encounter with Tacoma police occurred at a south Tacoma intersection, as Ellis was walking home from buying a late-night snack. Tacoma police described Ellis as the aggressor, but eyewitnesses and their video recordings portray the officers as the instigators, physically dominating Ellis even after he was on the ground.
Officers Matthew Collins, 38; Christopher “Shane” Burbank, 35; Masyih Ford, 29; Timothy Rankine, 32; and Armando “Manny” Farinas, 27, are on paid leave and under investigation for their roles in Ellis’ death. A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Gary Sanders, 47, who helped restrain Ellis, also is a focus of the probe.
Ellis’ name and smiling image became a fixture at protests against police misconduct last summer, and his case is widely seen as a test of Washington’s new police accountability law, which lowered the threshold for charging officers with fatal use of force.
Over the past 40 years, just three law enforcement officers in Washington state have faced criminal charges for deaths caused in the line of duty.
Ellis’ family plans to hold a news conference Thursday in response to the announcement.