Law & Justice

$4M settlement deal reached in police death of Manuel Ellis

Manuel Ellis died March 3, 2020
March 22, 2022 at 1:43 p.m.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
CDN wire services

TACOMA — The family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed by police two years ago as he pleaded for breath, has reached a $4 million proposed settlement with one of the two government agencies it named in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The Pierce County Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to approve the settlement, The News Tribune reported.

"We are happy to have reached this agreement with the County," the family's attorney, Matthew A. Ericksen Sr., said in an email. "By reaching this resolution Pierce County has established a foundation upon which the Ellis family and the community can begin the process of moving forward."

Ellis' sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, and mother, Marcia Carter, continue to pursue their federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma and against several individual officers, some of whom have been charged criminally.

Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, just weeks before George Floyd's death triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing. Police stopped him while he was walking home from a convenience store with a box of doughnuts and a bottle of water.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are white, with second-degree murder after witnesses reported that they attacked Ellis without provocation.

Officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian, faces a charge of first-degree manslaughter. He is accused of kneeling on Ellis' back and shoulder as Ellis repeatedly told them he couldn't breathe, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court.

The officers have pleaded not guilty.

Two Pierce County Sheriff deputies also responded to the scene, including Deputy Gary Sanders, who grabbed Ellis' leg and assisted in restraining him while Tacoma police handcuffed and hogtied him. The family's lawsuit faulted the deputies for not helping Ellis despite his distress.

Burbank and Collins reported that the encounter happened after they saw Ellis trying to get into occupied cars at a stoplight; they said Ellis punched the window of their cruiser and attacked them as they got out, according to statements from other officers cited in the charging documents.

The Pierce County medical examiner called Ellis' death a homicide because of a lack of oxygen caused by restraint, with an enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication as contributing factors.

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, as was the retort from one of the officers: "Shut the (expletive) up, man."

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