Three Tacoma Police Department officers have been charged in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died last year after being handcuffed and restrained.
Officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins were both charged with second-degree murder and Officer Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter, the Washington State Attorney General announced in a press release.
Warrants have been issued for their arrests. The Tacoma Police Department did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Ellis, 33, died on March 3, 2020, after police stopped him while he was walking home. Authorities said at the time that he was allegedly harassing a woman at an intersection.
But probable cause documents state that police were unprovoked when they slammed Ellis to the ground, punched him and hogtied him while Ellis repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”
Ellis’ family plans to hold a press conference on the charges Thursday evening.
According to the documents, Ellis had gone to a store near his home for a late-night snack when, at around 11:20 p.m., he encountered Burbank and Collins in their patrol car at a red light.
Ellis stopped and “appeared to briefly interact with the officers as they sat in their car,” the document states. Witnesses said it looked like Ellis was having a “casual conversation” with the officers and that he showed “no signs of aggression.”
As Ellis began to walk away, Burbank “abruptly swung open the passenger door of the car, striking Ellis from behind and knocking him to his knees,” the document states.
Witnesses said the officer then got out and got on top of Ellis as Ellis tried to get up. Collins then got out and ran over to them.
Several witnesses began to record the encounter on their cellphones. Video from one woman showed Burbank wrap his arms around Ellis “lifting him into the air, and driving him down into the pavement, striking at him with one of his fists as he does so.”
“Collins then moves in towards Ellis and brings his weight down onto him. With Ellis underneath him, Collins begins striking Ellis’s head with his fist,” according to the document.
Collins is accused of slamming Ellis to the ground as Burbank fired his stun gun at him. Both officers had a handcuffed Ellis pinned to the ground when Officer Rankine arrived on the scene, the document states.
Rankine is accused of “applying pressure to Ellis’s back” with both of his knees.
According to the document, officers eventually called the fire department for help but did not tell them that Ellis said he could not breathe. It wasn’t until after 11:32 p.m. when police requested medical aid.
By the time the fire department arrived, Ellis was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Authorities previously tried to paint Ellis as the aggressor.
“He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground,” said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Police said he repeatedly struck the patrol car, prompting the officers to call for backup before engaging in a struggle to detain him, police said.
The documents deny the allegations.
“These accounts are contradicted by the three civilian witnesses, none of whom ever saw Ellis in the intersection, or saw Ellis strike the officers’ car, or saw Ellis attack, punch, or otherwise strike the officers at any point,” it states. “These civilian accounts are supported by video sources.”
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office said Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia as a result of physical restraint, KING reported. Contributing factors included methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly known as an enlarged heart, the medical examiner said.
The Tacoma Police Union blasted the decision to bring charges as “a politically motivated witch hunt.”
“We look forward to trial,” the union said Thursday in a statement. “An unbiased jury will find that the officers broke no laws and, in fact, acted in accordance with the law, their training, and Tacoma Police Department policies.”