TACOMA, Wash. — Three months to the day after 33-year-old Manuel Ellis died on a Tacoma sidewalk in police custody, the entire city block was filled with hundreds of candle and sign-holding supporters, calling for justice for Ellis' family.
"The whole globe is gonna know about Manuel Ellis," said Ellis' sister, Monet Carter-Mixon "They're going to know about what happened here in Tacoma Washington on March 3!"
Many of the people who gathered said they hadn't heard about Ellis' story until they learned the official cause of death, which was respiratory arrest due to hypoxia due to physical restraint, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office. It's a story remarkably similar to George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police, although the investigative agency, the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, has said the stories are very different.
"This is comfort. This is love and this is community," said Ellis' brother, Matthew Ellis. "We're so, so, so proud to be here with you guys so we can all stand up for justice together."
The 33-year-old who friends called Manny was described as a good-hearted family-loving loyal friend who'd been clean and sober after bouts with addiction.
"Anytime I lost faith in anything, he's the one who I called," said Brian Giordano. "My go-to, my best friend."
When the Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis' death a homicide from lack of oxygen due to physical restraint the night he was in custody of Tacoma police, a copy of a 911 call includes audio of Ellis heard saying, "I can't breathe."
Ellis' family believes four police officers are directly responsible for his death and for obscuring reports, but some investigators say Ellis was acting "manic" and was seen pounding on a car before allegedly attacking a police officer who approached him.
"He was never being arrested," said Detective Ed Troyer, with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office. "He contacted the police, said he has warrants, he wanted to talk, and obviously was in distress."
Troyer said officers restrained Ellis and immediately called in paramedics when he complained of breathing issues. He said paramedics worked on Ellis for about 40 minutes.
"There were no knees on heads. There was no cutting off of circulation, none of that," Troyer said. "He was handcuffed. He was talking. He was breathing, and throughout the process, when he had trouble breathing, officers set him on his side and got him help."
But friends say the police version is wildly out of character for the friend they called Manny.
"He's the type to lay down and get out of the way of the cops," said Giordano. "He's not the type to fight them, he's just like anyone else around here. You don't want anything to do with cops, you duck down the in back seat if they happen to get behind you."
"He was a blessed child," said Ellis' mother, Marcia Carter. "He was blessed! He was good, and did not deserve to be murdered at the hands of the police!
As they wait for the justice system to reveal answers, Ellis' family was impressed with the intensity of community support.
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