Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died after police in Tacoma, Washington, restrained him by the neck, even as he said “I can’t breathe.”New video footage of the incident challenges the Tacoma Police Department’s account of the killing, according to which “Mr. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combative.” “Manny Ellis was compliant,” James Bible, the attorney for Ellis’s family, said. “He was simply trying to survive.”On June 10, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that state investigators would take over the case.Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Manuel Ellis, struggling for air, called out “I can’t breathe” as police officers restrained him in Tacoma, Washington, in March. Pronounced dead at the scene, the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide in June.The killing mirrored the death of other Black men at the hands of police, like George Floyd and Eric Garner, who could not breathe. Witnesses to Ellis’s death did not immediately come forward, but the killing left his community bereft and crying out for justice.Tacoma police said Ellis, 33, was resisting arrest. “Mr. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combative,” the Tacoma Police Department said in a statement on June 3.But new video footage, released by an attorney representing Ellis’s family, contradicts the police narrative, just as footage of Floyd’s and Garner’s final moments did the same.
‘He was simply trying to survive’ A 53-second clip, filmed by a witness and published by Attorney James Bible, shows two white officers struggling with Ellis, The News Tribune reported on Monday.One officer wraps his arm around Ellis’s neck from behind. Seconds later, after Ellis and the officer fall to the ground, the other officer fires his Taser at Ellis. Ellis begins to flail on the ground as the first officer takes his arm from around Ellis’s neck, rolls him onto his stomach, and subdues him with his knee.”This video is critical,” Bible told the News Tribune, “because it shows that Manny Ellis was compliant, that he was simply trying to survive, because he authentically couldn’t breathe because officers wrapped their arms around his neck and tased him multiple times.” The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide on June 3, reporting that he died from respiratory arrest as a result of oxygen deprivation, hypoxia, and physical restraint, and adding that methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease were contributing factors.
The officers placed a spit mask, or plastic hood, over Ellis’s face, according to the autopsy, which may have contributed to his death. They also bound his legs together in a hobble, or canvas strap, The News Tribune reported.Other video footage, made public in early June, shows the two officers throwing Ellis to the ground before pinning him down. The officers can be heard telling Ellis to “put your hands behind your back” several times. Sara McDowell, who filmed the earlier footage, begged the officers to stop.”Stop. Oh my God, stop hitting him,” McDowell said. “Just arrest him.”
“I was terrified for his life, honestly,” she told the New York Times in early June. “The way that they attacked him didn’t make sense to me. I went home and was sick to my stomach.”‘I can’t breathe, sir’Other video footage, recorded by a home surveillance camera, shows Ellis telling the officers: “I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe.” “Shut the f— up,” one officer seems to reply. When that footage emerged, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state would take over the investigation of Ellis’s killing. None of the police officers involved in the incident have been fired or charged.
“I have become convinced that the Pierce County Sheriff should not complete the investigation of the death of Manuel Ellis and the county prosecutor should not review the investigation and make charging decisions,” Inslee said in a statement on June 10. The county prosecutor, Mary Robnett, “has an irreconcilable conflict that would preclude her office from handling this case,” he said, without specifying the details of that conflict.”What we learned from that [surveillance] video is not just that Manny Ellis said, ‘I can’t breathe,'” Bible said during a press conference on June 9. “What we learned is he said, ‘I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe, sir. I can’t breathe, sir.'”LoadingSomething is loading.