SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington state attorney general on Thursday filed murder charges against two police officers in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died after telling the Tacoma officers who were restraining him that he couldn’t breathe.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement he charged officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder and Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter. The charges were filed in Pierce County Superior Court.
Ellis, 33, died on March 3, 2020, in handcuffs from lack of oxygen caused by being restrained. The Pierce County medical examiner called his death a homicide.
His final words — “I can’t breathe, sir!” — were captured by a home security camera. The medical examiner’s report also listed methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as factors in his death.
Ellis’ death — just weeks before George Floyd’s death under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing — made Ellis’ name synonymous with pleas for justice at protests in the Pacific Northwest.
After the charges were announced, Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement.
“This is the first step in our system of justice,” Inslee said, in part. “This year, I signed more than 12 bills creating the most comprehensive police accountability laws in the nation. It is my fervent hope that we can avoid future incidents and deaths.”
Inslee signed one of the nation’s most ambitious packages of police accountability legislation last Tuesday, prompted by last year’s outcry for racial justice following the deaths of Manuel Ellis, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police.
The dozen bills Inslee signed include outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants such as the one that helped lead to Taylor’s killing in Louisville, Kentucky.
They require officers to intervene if their colleagues engage in excessive force — a demand inspired by the officers who stood by while Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee to Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
The bills also create an independent office to review the use of deadly force by police, make it easier to decertify police for bad acts, and require officers to use “reasonable care,” including exhausting de-escalation tactics, in carrying out their duties. The use of tear gas and car chases are restricted and it’s easier to sue officers when they inflict injury.
KOIN 6 News contributed to this story by The Associated Press.