An examiner who performed an autopsy on Manuel Ellis, a Washington state man who died in police custody, has ruled his death a homicide.
Ellis died on March 3 in Tacoma, Washington, following a confrontation with four Tacoma Police officers. A video taken by a bystander shows the officers on top of Ellis and hitting him while he was lying on the pavement.
Toward the end of the video, an officer says, “just put your hands behind your back.” The woman filming the incident pleaded with them to stop.
“Hey! Stop! Oh my God, stop hitting him!” the woman begged. “Just arrest him! … Oh my God, that looks so scary.”
Audio of a police scanner also gives insight into his final moments. Ellis was recorded yelling “I can’t breathe” before he died.
Tacoma residents have been protesting Ellis’ death in addition to other officer-involved killings. Ellis’ killing is similar to the death George Floyd. Floyd died on Memorial Day after now-former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for eight minutes. Like Ellis, Floyd yelled “I can’t breathe” while being restrained by three police officers as another seemingly stood guard.
“The harshest of realities is George Floyd is right here in Tacoma, and his name is Manny,” James Bible, an attorney representing Ellis’ family, told The News Tribune.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner determined Ellis died from hypoxia, which occurs when organs are deprived of oxygen and an enlarged heart, a conditioned called dilated cardiomyopathy. The former was directly related to the way officers restrained Ellis. The results of the procedure were released on Wednesday.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating the case for the Tacoma Police, says before the fatal encounter officers came upon Ellis at an intersection pounding on the car window of one woman and trying to open other drivers’ car doors. Pierce County Sheriff spokesman Detective Ed Troyer said the interaction was uneventful until Ellis started behaving erratically.
“They asked if he needed help and he said he had warrants and that he wanted to talk, so they got out to talk to him and he was obviously in distress and when they did that he assaulted one of the officers,” Troyer explained to local TV station KIRO. “He was handcuffed, he was talking, he was breathing and then, throughout the process, he had trouble breathing and he told people, ‘I can’t breathe.’ They put him on the side and called for medical aid.”
“He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground,” Troyer told The News Tribune. “He never tried to run, he engaged with the officers and started a fight.”
On June 5, the day after the video evidence emerged, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards called for the officers’ firings.
“Tonight, [the family] asked, why does it always take a video for the public to believe when a black person’s life is taken unjustly? As an African-American woman, I didn’t need a video to believe,” Woodards said. “As I watched that video, I became even more enraged and angered and disappointed.”
She also called on the district attorney to prosecute the officers “to the fullest extent of the law.”
Monet Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister, also wants the officers held accountable for her brother’s death.
“The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office wanted to cover up my brother’s murder,” Carter-Mixon said during a press conference on Thursday. “Every single officer involved needs to be in a jumpsuit.”
Ellis’ family acknowledged he suffered from mental illness and drug addiction but insisted he was trying to change his life before he died. Relatives said Ellis was attending church and played multiple instruments including the piano, drums and keyboard. He is also remembered as a doting father of a 11-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl.
“He had his demons like we all did, but he was making strides to do the right thing,” Carter-Mixon told The News Tribune. “He was a good man and a good person. He was loved by everyone.”
“I want to do the right thing. I want to do the right thing, is what my son said,” Marcia Carter, his mother, recalled during Thursday’s news conference. “He loved the Lord. He played the drums four nights a week at the church.”