Family of Washington State Man Who Died While Hogtied with a Spit Mask On for Several Minutes to Receive $4M Settlement In Lawsuit Against State Police

The family of a Washington state man who died in police custody will receive $4 million in a settlement for the man’s death.

The Pierce County Council unanimously agreed to pay Manuel Ellis‘ family the money on March 22, just over two years after he was beaten and hogtied by police. The medical examiner’s office ruled Ellis’ death a homicide.

A medical examiner ruled the death of Manuel Ellis a homicide. Ellis died on March 3, 2020, after an encounter with four Tacoma Police officers. (Photo: Tacoma Action Collective/GoFundMe)

“Ellis was merely walking home with doughnuts and a bottle of water when two officers targeted him because he is Black,” the lawsuit alleges. “He was deemed suspicious by the officers and they beat, tased, choked, and hogtied him as a result of their false perceptions of Manuel Ellis that are irretrievably linked to his race.”

According to reports, Ellis’ autopsy showed he died because of the physical restraint the officers used on him. The officers reportedly held Ellis in a chokehold. The autopsy report shows that a spit mask that officers placed on Ellis was a major contributor to his death.

Ellis was heard on audio from the incident saying, “I can’t breathe, sir.” His family and attorneys said officers did not do anything to help him.

Ellis’ mother and sister sued Tacoma, Pierce County, two Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies and six Tacoma police officers in the federal lawsuit. The complaint alleges wrongful death, assault, constitutional and civil rights violations and emotional distress. The settlement means the claims against the county and two deputies have been dropped.

Ellis’ family still wants the city to pay $30 million, The News Tribune reports.

Police said Ellis pulled on car doors and pounded on a patrol car in March 2020. His family said he suffered from mental illness and drug addiction, but was trying to recover. The medical examiner found that methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease also contributed to Ellis’ death.

Police initially alleged he attacked an officer, which led to the confrontation. Witnesses said they saw no signs of aggression from Ellis. Cell phone video from a bystander later revealed that officers tased, choked and punched Ellis after pushing him to the ground. At one point they alleged he had “superhuman strength.”

Two of the Tacoma police officers were charged with second-degree murder. A third officer is facing manslaughter.

Pierce County officials said they hoped the settlement would help bring Ellis’ family some closure.

“No monetary value will ever compensate for the loss or heartache Mr. Ellis’ family and loved ones experienced over the last two years. Nor will it stop the Ellis family or community from grieving his death,” a council statement following the vote said.

The family’s attorney, Matthew Ericksen Sr., told CNN, the last two years have been difficult for his clients, but they are “happy” about the settlement. He “commended” the county for not dragging the case in court.

“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,” Ericksen said. “At the same time, we will continue to aggressively pursue our claims against the City of Tacoma.”

Ellis leaves behind two children.

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