Three Tacoma cops are charged in murder Manuel Ellis who was handcuffed and yelled 'I can't breathe' after being restrained for harassing drivers in their cars last year

 Two Washington police officers on Thursday were charged with murder and one was charged with manslaughter in the death of Manuel Ellis, a black man who told cops he couldn't breathe as he was being restrained.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed charges of second-degree murder against Tacoma Police officers Christopher Burbank, 35, and Matthew Collins, 38, and first-degree manslaughter against 32-year-old Timothy Rankine.

If convicted, given their lack of criminal history, Burbank and Collins could face up to 18 years in prison, and Rankine could spend more than eight years behind bars. Both offenses carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.  

Matthew Collins
Christopher Burbank
Timothy Rankine

Tacoma police officers Matthew Collins (left) and Christopher Burbank (center) were charged on Thursday with second-degree murder for the death of Manuel Ellis, and officer Timothy Rankine (right) was charged with first-degree manslaughter 

Ellis, 33, died after being restrained by the police and telling them he could not breathe

Ellis, 33, died after being restrained by the police and telling them he could not breathe 

The officers' charges mark the first time the Washington Attorney General’s Office has criminally charged police officers for the unlawful use of deadly force. 

Ellis, a father-of-two known to his loved ones as 'Manny,' was killed on March 3, 2020, just weeks before George Floyd's death under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing. 

The Pierce County medical examiner called his death a homicide and attributed it to lack of oxygen from being restrained.

The death made Ellis' name synonymous with pleas for justice at protests in the Pacific Northwest. His final words - 'I can't breathe, sir!' - were captured by a home security camera.


Footage of Ellis' arrest was posted on Twitter by the Tacoma Action Collective, a racial justice group, in June. Officers are pictured in footage from the video aggressively trying to restrain Ellis

Footage of Ellis' arrest was posted on Twitter by the Tacoma Action Collective, a racial justice group, in June. Officers are pictured in footage from the video aggressively trying to restrain Ellis

The footage shows the officers restraining Ellis as the witness drives by

The footage shows the officers restraining Ellis as the witness drives by

Five Tacoma officers, including Armando Farina and Masyih Ford, were put on paid home leave pending the charging decision. A Pierce County Sheriff's deputy who helped restrain Ellis, Sgt. Gary Sanders, was also a focus of the probe.

The encounter began after officers reported seeing Ellis, who was walking from a store after getting a snack, trying to get into occupied cars at a red light. They said Ellis was the aggressor and charged as an officer exited a police car.

But witnesses who recorded parts of the fatal interaction reported seeing officers Burbank and Collins attack Ellis, 33, without provocation, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court. An officer sitting in the passenger side of a patrol car slammed his door into Ellis, knocking him down, and then jumped on him and started beating him, they said. 

'Ellis was not fighting back,' the probable cause statement said. 'All three civilian witnesses at the intersection ... state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.'

Rankine, who arrived on the scene later, is accused of putting pressure on Ellis' back as the man said, 'I can't breathe.' 

In the witness video that emerged in June 2020, a woman filming the arrest from her car is heard yelling out to the officers to stop as they throw punches at Ellis, who is on the ground and kicking at them.

Masyih Ford
Sgt. Gary Sanders

Tacona officer Masyih Ford (left) has been on administrative leave. Pierce County sheriff's deputy who helped restrain Ellis, Sgt. Gary Sanders (right), is being investigated 

'Hey! Stop! Oh my God! Stop hitting him. Stop hitting him. Just arrest him. Just arrest him,' the unidentified woman pleaded from her vehicle, before a man, also not identified, distracts her from outside.

The officers are later seen in the footage holding down the man as the woman drives past them.

Officers reported seeing Ellis, who struggled with mental illness, trying to get into occupied cars at a red light

Officers reported seeing Ellis, who struggled with mental illness, trying to get into occupied cars at a red light

Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer, who was at the time a detective and the spokesman for the sheriff´s office, said then that none of the officers placed a knee on Ellis´ neck or head. But one of the witness videos that later surfaced depicts just that.

Farina placed a spit hood over Ellis' head after he told the officers he couldn't breathe, according to Washington State Patrol records.

Farina said he was responding to Ellis' 'assaultive behavior.' The officer recounted that the man was alert and had blood coming from his mouth.  

Sanders, who arrived as back-up, also helped to shove the 33-year-old's leg into a hobble to hogtie him while he lay handcuffed and prone on the pavement.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office botched the initial investigation into Ellis' death by failing to disclose for three months that one of its deputies had responded; state law requires independent investigations. The Washington State Patrol took over, and the Attorney General's Office conducted its review based on evidence gathered by the patrol.

Ellis had a history of mental illness and addiction. In September 2019, he was found naked after trying to rob a fast food restaurant. A sheriff's deputy subdued him with a Taser after he refused to remain down on the ground and charged toward law enforcement.

But his landlords at the sober housing where he was staying told The Seattle Times he had been doing well in recent months after embracing mental health care for his schizophrenia.

A protester holds a sign that reads 'Justice for Manny' in this June 5, 2020, in Tacoma

A protester holds a sign that reads 'Justice for Manny' in this June 5, 2020, in Tacoma

Ellis' death, Pierce County´s botched investigation into it, and the national outcry for racial justice helped inspire Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a task force to suggest ways to guarantee independent reviews of police use of deadly force.

This month, Inslee signed one of the nation's most ambitious packages of police accountability legislation, including outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants. 

The legislation also makes it easier to decertify police for bad acts - and creates an independent office to review deadly force cases.

Warrants were issued for the officers' arrests but it was not immediately clear if they had been taken into custody.

All three charged officers previously served in the Army, the attorney general’s office said, and as police officers all had taken training on crisis intervention. Collins and Burbank had each been an officer for four years by March 2020 after serving eight years in the Army. Rankine joined the department in 2018 after six years in the Army and two as a security contractor for the U.S. State Department. 

Three Tacoma cops are charged in murder Manuel Ellis who was handcuffed and yelled 'I can't breathe' after being restrained for harassing drivers in their cars last year Three Tacoma cops are charged in murder Manuel Ellis who was handcuffed and yelled 'I can't breathe' after being restrained for harassing drivers in their cars last year Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 04:55 Rating: 5

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