Opening statements begin in trial of 3 Tacoma police officers charged in Manny Ellis’ death

TACOMA, Wash. — There were riveting opening statements in the trial of three Tacoma police officers charged with killing an unarmed Black man. The historic trial finally got underway on Tuesday.

Both the state and the defense laid out their very different views of why and how 33-year-old Manuel Ellis died more than three years ago.

There were some dramatic moments today. In fact, this is actually the first time we have heard any of this in a court of law.

“Can’t breathe, sir,” said Kent Liu. “Can’t breathe. Still can’t breathe. Still can’t breathe.”

That is how the prosecutor handling the case began his opening statement.

“Still can’t breathe, sir,” repeated Liu. “Those were the last known words of Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old man from Tacoma, who died on March 3rd, 2020.”

The three officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, both white, were both charged with 2nd-degree murder and 1st-degree manslaughter, and Timothy Rankine, who is Asian American, was charged with 1st-degree manslaughter.

Cell phone video showed their violent takedown of Ellis, tazing, tackling, and repeatedly punching the 33-year-old.

But the lawyer for Burbank said the cell phone video shows the end of the altercation and that it was Ellis who was violent at the start.

“Officer Burbank doesn’t know what’s going on,” said Brett Purtzer. “He starts to roll the window down. He starts to roll the window down. And mister Ellis says ‘I ought to punch you in the eff-ing face.’ Immediately Officer Burbank realizes this is going sideways and he is pinned in his vehicle.”

Officer Rankine’s lawyer said they did not ignore Ellis when he said he couldn’t breathe.

“They’re trying to say Officer Rankine did something untoward in this case to kill this man,” said Anne Bremner. “And it’s just not true.”

We watched Officer Burbank leave the courthouse after the testimony was done.

Testimony actually began late because the lawyer for Matthew Collins said he would save his opening statements for after the prosecution presented its case. We are told that is unusual but not unheard of for a lawyer to make that decision.

Manny Ellis’s sister and mother will testify Wednesday. It is likely to be a very emotional day.

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