Manuel Ellis: Death of Black Man in Tacoma Police Custody Ruled a Homicide

The death of Manuel Ellis, a black man who died while in the custody of Tacoma, Washington police, was ruled a homicide by the Pierce County Medical Examiner's office on Wednesday. Ellis, 33, died on March 3. The medical examiner determined the cause of death was respiratory arrest due to hypoxia due to physical restraint, reports The News Tribune. Ellis' family compared his case to George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, inspiring protests in all 50 states.

On the night Ellis died, he was performing at a church revival and called his family to talk about his joy. He then spent time with his landlord and her husband before leaving at 11 p.m. About 20 minutes later, police first encountered Ellis, accusing him of harassing a woman and knocking on her car window. He allegedly tried to open other car doors. Two officers asked Ellis what he was doing, and he allegedly said he had warrants and hoped to speak with them. Ellis allegedly hit their car, leading the officers inside to call dispatch for backup.

"He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground," Ed Troyer, spokesman of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, told the News Tribune Tuesday. Troyer said Ellis did not try to run and "engaged with the officers and started a fight." After a struggle, police handcuffed Ellis on the ground and they called for paramedics at 11:25 p.m. Ellis lost consciousness, and paramedics tried to revive him with CPR. He was declared dead at the scene. Tacompton Files published a 12-minute police radio recording from the incident. During it, Ellis can be heard yelling he "can't breathe."

After Ellis died, officials first said he suffered from "excited delirium," which can include violent attempts, high blood pressure, and surprising strength. In the autopsy, Ellis, who battled addiction, had some drugs in his system at the time of his death, the medical examiner's office said. However, the cause of death was respiratory arrest due to hypoxia, a lack of oxygen reaching body tissues, while he was physically restrained. The medical examiner listed methamphetamine intoxication and an enlarged heart as contributing factors.

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On Wednesday night, Ellis' family led a peaceful protest and vigil in Tacoma. His mother, Marcia Carter-Patterson, told those present that she spoke with Ellis just before he died. He told her to remember he loves her. "He was a blessed child—he was blessed. He was good and did not deserve to be murdered at the hands of the police," Carter-Patterson said, reports KOMO. "Manny is George Floyd," his sister, Monet Carter-Mixon.
The four officers involved are now on administrative leave, and Ellis' family wants them arrested and fired. The officers are Christopher Burbank, 34;

Matthew Collins, 37; Masyih Ford, 28; and Timothy Rankin, 31. "We pause amidst our struggle with the current public health and economic crisis, as well as the flood of emotions stirred up by the tragic and unacceptable death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and reflect on the grief and sadness of Manuel Ellis’ family and loved ones," Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said Wednesday.