TACOMA, Wash. — The attorney representing the family of Manuel Ellis released a newly obtained surveillance video Tuesday that depicts the last moments of Ellis’ life as he was arrested by police in Tacoma.
The doorbell surveillance camera video from March 3 doesn't show what happened to Ellis, but a microphone captured him telling police officers he was in distress.
“I … I can’t breathe, sir! Can’t breathe!” Ellis is heard shouting before an unintelligible scream.
James Bible, the attorney for the family of the 33 -year -old Ellis, said the video, which had been turned over to Pierce County Sheriff's investigators months ago, was recently obtained by the family from the homeowner.
“And what we learned from that video is not just that Manny Ellis said I can’t breathe,” said Bible. “What we learned is he said, ‘I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe, sir.’ A clear sign that it’s not only a struggle for breath but an attempt to still be respectful in your last moments of life.
Sheriff’s spokesman detective Ed Troyer confirmed the department, which is investigating Ellis’ death, got copies of the video in March. Troyer released a statement Tuesday saying; “We will make all of our evidence, including our personnel available to any investigative agency that is involved in this case once that decision is made. We can’t release evidence or materials until after it’s been presented to the prosecutor, per state law and to maintain the integrity of the investigation. At that time we would release all of the evidence to the public, including any and all videos that have been turned over to us.”
The Pierce County Medical Examiner ruled Ellis' death a homicide, saying he suffocated while restrained by police officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Masyih Ford and Timothy Rankine. According to sheriff's investigators, Ellis assaulted the officers and was resisting as they arrested him. They used handcuffs, a canvas strap to hobble his feet, and put a spit mask over his head.
As the sounds of Ellis' screams were played over and over, family members wept, visibly disturbed. None of them spoke to reporters at the news conference.
Bible claimed as Ellis cried out, one of the four officers involved used an expletive telling him to shut up.
“If you listen closely to this video, it actually sound something closer to shut the **** up,” said Bible.
KIRO 7 examined the audio and what was said across the street from the camera is difficult to hear. But it appears at one point, an officer mentions a belt, and the other said something about checking his gun. There was a separate exchange of profanity that appeared to come from a couple who witnessed the arrest as they argued with each other.
Bible has called for Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett to recuse herself from the case, claiming she has a “natural conflict” because her office regularly works with both the Tacoma Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Bible said the case should be investigated by the Washington State Patrol and Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
On Monday, Robnett granted concurrent jurisdiction to the attorney general, opening the door for the state to conduct its own independent investigation at the same time as her office, but Attorney General Bob Ferguson declined to do so, saying the state should wait until the county’s investigation was complete.
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