TACOMA, Wash. — The Washington State Attorney General’s office filed historic charges on Thursday against the three police officers involved in the death of Manuel, or “Manny” Ellis.
“Yes, these three officers are getting charged. Hopefully we see them in jail,” said Monet Carter-Mixon, Manny Ellis’ sister. “It’s hard for me to be happy, hard for me to be celebrate because so many things are still being overlooked,” she said.
All three turned themselves in Thursday afternoon and are now behind bars, set to face a judge for the first time Friday morning.
The AG’s office said in charging documents that what the police officers report happening immediately prior to the death contradicts what witnesses say.
In a press conference Thursday, the family of Manuel Ellis said what they went through to get here showcases a broken system.
“My heart is heavy,” said Marcia Carter, Manny Ellis’ mother. “The criminal system needs to be made over!” she said.
“The last time I saw my brother was lying in a casket. It was the worst day of my life,” said Mathew Ellis, Manny Ellis’ brother.
The Office of the Attorney General charged officers Christopher Burbank, 35, and Matthew Collins, 38, with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.
Officer Timothy Rankine, 32, is being charged with first-degree manslaughter.
The charges point to video that shows officers tasing, tackling, and repeatedly punching Ellis.
“Hey! Stop, oh my God! Stop hitting him!” you hear a woman shout in the video she is taking.
While Ellis’ hands and feet were restrained, an officer kneeled on his back.
“Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe, sir,” you can hear Ellis saying in the video.
An officer replies, “Shut the f--- up.”
Despite expressing he couldn’t breathe multiple times, another officer put a spit hood over Ellis’s head.
The documents say the three officers “failed to render or call for urgent medical aid as Ellis exhibited signs of a medical crisis, failed to alert other officers to Ellis’ medical distress, failed to stop another officer from putting a spit hood over Ellis’ head, and failed to remove the spit hood as Ellis’ condition declined.”
It specifically accuses that Rankine “recklessly caused Ellis’s death when, after hearing Ellis say he could not breathe, Rankine continued to hold Ellis in the prone position and to apply pressure onto his back.”
The charges say that Burbank and Collins “recklessly caused Ellis’s death when they assaulted and restrained Ellis without justification.”
“The fight is far from over,” Carton-Mixon said.
The family said they are hoping to see consequences for other officers involved, too.
Constitutional law attorney Jeffery Needle says the fact that this is the first time in Washington state history that the attorney general’s office has filed such charges against officers is significant. Needle says it’s a message for both the public and police.
“It’s a very big deal,” Needle said. “I don’t think these matters will be swept under the rug in the way they have in the past,” he said.
Needle adds that as the case plays out in court, the video evidence will be key.
“Do you believe your eyes? That was the argument made in George Floyd’s case, and I suspect that’ll be the argument made in this case,” Needle said.
“I think without the video it’s possible there wouldn’t be charges pending against the officers,” Needle said. “Historically, jurors have sided with police officers, or they never even got the chance to because historically, these cases were never filed because it was so difficult to win,” he said.
Needle also believes that investigations into police misconduct will genuinely be more transparent in the future, with the passage of Washington’s police reform bill that creates a civilian Office of Independent Investigations.
Those supporting Ellis’ family point out they had to fight for the completely independent investigation by the AG’s office -- which was first assigned to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, then to the Washington State Patrol.
“It was civilians that made these facts known so these charges could be laid,” said a Chris, speaker with the Tacoma Action Collective during the press conference.
The Ellis family is calling for further reforms in hopes that every family can get a truly independent investigation.
“I will never, never give up,” Carter said.
“My brother’s name will live forever , especially in Washington state. And around the world. His life mattered,” Mathew Ellis said.
According to the AG’s report, the medical examiner’s office said he does not believe the meth found in Ellis’ blood played a role in his death -- but rather, that he died because “a lack of oxygen due to physical restraint.”
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