‘I can’t breathe’: How Manuel Ellis was killed by police | Black Lives Matter

Tacoma, Washington State – Marcia Carter, 62, stands on the sidewalk gazing solemnly on the single-storey housing unit with its peeling white and blue paint. The entrance porch of the decaying property is sealed off with plywood. Beside Marcia, on a patch of dying grass, is a small picket crucifix, wrapped in a Seattle Seahawks bandana, and dotted with stickers of musical notes. It’s inscribed with a date: 03-03-2020.

It was right here that Marcia’s son, Manuel Elijah Ellis, was killed by Tacoma cops as he walked dwelling from a comfort retailer two years in the past. His last phrases had been, “I can’t breathe.”

“The police murdered him,” Marcia says coldly, every phrase punctuated with fury and unhappiness.

“No one was there to save lots of my son,” the retired highschool steering counselor provides.

Manuel was handcuffed, tased, and suffocated to demise. An post-mortem dominated his demise a murder.

He was 33 years previous.

The police narrative

On March 3, 2020, Manuel walked right into a south Tacoma 7-Eleven and purchased a field of raspberry donuts and a bottle of water. He paid for his snacks and left the shop at 11:11pm. Quickly after, he was useless.

Just a few blocks from the shop, whereas strolling east alongside 96th Road, Manuel encountered Tacoma cops Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins.

Burbank and Collins, whose account of the lethal arrest was contradicted by three eyewitnesses, in addition to video recordings of the incident, would later inform crime scene investigators they’d first seen Manuel performing erratically and chasing after an unidentified motorist’s automotive at a set of close by visitors lights.

The 2 officers informed detectives that Manuel then started banging on their police cruiser, attacked them as they exited the automobile, and fought their makes an attempt to detain him, finally leading to his demise, in response to a Pierce County Sheriff’s Division supplemental report (PDF).

Tacoma police denied any wrongdoing and portrayed Manuel because the aggressor.

A 7-Eleven store in south Tacoma seen from the parking lot with three cars parked outside
The south Tacoma 7-Eleven the place Manuel Ellis bought snacks shortly earlier than he was killed [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]

For weeks, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Workplace, which had been requested to deal with the investigation, parroted town police’s model of occasions. Specifically, then-spokesperson Ed Troyer — who was later elected sheriff in November 2020 — vehemently denied that officers had positioned a knee on Ellis’ again or head.

On the time, the Tacoma Police Division didn’t equip its officers with physique cameras, which Manuel’s household and lawyer say allowed legislation enforcement to largely management the narrative round his demise.

That was till citizen video — two clips filmed by a passing motorist — and recordings from a close-by dwelling surveillance digicam emerged, difficult the police’s model of occasions.

The witness accounts

Prosecutors say three separate eyewitnesses, together with a pizza supply driver, and two motorists (one in every of whom filmed cell phone footage of the encounter) mentioned the unarmed Black man had interacted with Burbank and Collins for roughly 10 to fifteen seconds as he handed by their squad cruiser.

They described the transient trade as “peaceable” and “respectful” and mentioned Manuel displayed “no indicators of aggression”.

Then, they defined, as Manuel walked away from the police automobile, Burbank “abruptly swung open the passenger door”, knocking Manuel to his knees. In accordance with the witnesses, as Manuel tried to stand up, Burbank climbed on high of him.

“[Manuel] Ellis was not combating again,” a possible trigger assertion obtained by Al Jazeera English mentioned. The doc that particulars the idea for costs additionally acknowledged: “All three civilian witnesses on the intersection…state that they by no means noticed [Manuel] Ellis strike on the officers.”

Whereas Collins utilized a neck maintain, Burbank aimed his Taser at Ellis’ chest and deployed it, delivering a five-second jolt of electrical energy via Manuel’s physique, in response to prosecutors.

As Manuel lay handcuffed on the concrete, gasping for breath, he repeated the phrases — “I can’t breathe” — a number of instances. In accordance with the house surveillance footage that captured the arrest, one officer responded by telling him to “shut the f*** up”.

A vacant single-storey white house with a small garden in front of it
The entrance yard of the vacant south Tacoma dwelling, footsteps from the place Manuel Ellis died, has been became a memorial backyard [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]

At 11:24pm, a 3rd Tacoma police officer, Timothy Rankine, and his associate, arrived on the scene. Doorbell digicam footage reveals Rankine pouncing on high of Manuel, as Burbank and Collins restrained his again and legs, respectively.

Rankine put “all [his] weight to the center of [Manuel’s] physique, securing [his] proper knee excessive of his backbone just under the bottom of his neck” along with his “left knee in the course of his backbone, on his decrease again,” in response to the possible trigger assertion.

Cell phone video, shot from a special angle by a passing motorist, confirmed one officer inserting his knee on Manuel’s again.

“Hey! Cease! Oh my god, cease hitting him!” the driving force yelled at officers within the recording, which Al Jazeera English has seen, earlier than driving off.

‘Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe’

Rankine later recalled how, as he utilized strain to Manuel’s again, he heard him make “actually unusual animal grunting noises.” Manuel once more repeated that he couldn’t breathe in a “very calm regular voice,” Rankine mentioned, in response to prosecutors.

“In the event you’re speaking to me, you possibly can breathe simply fantastic,” Rankine informed Manuel, the possible trigger assertion alleged.

Manuel repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe” at the very least thrice inside a minute of Rankine’s arrival on the scene. A minute later, his legs had been hobbled after which tied to {the handcuffs} behind his again. The 33-year-old remained face down on the concrete.

A police radio then captured Manuel’s final recognized phrases: “Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe,” in response to the case’s possible trigger assertion.

Manuel, who was bleeding from his face, then started to “snore,” in response to Lieutenant. Anthony Messineo, of Pierce County Sheriff’s Workplace, who arrived on the website of the incident round 11:25pm. He then “went quiet” and “stopped transferring,” in response to Messineo’s account.

A smashed box of donuts is seen beside a police vehicle close to the covered body of Manuel Ellis
A field of smashed donuts, which Manuel Ellis bought from the 7-Eleven shortly earlier than he was killed, is pictured beneath a Tacoma police cruiser, close to his physique, on March 3, 2020 [Washington State Police]

Roughly two minutes later, officer Armando Farinas positioned a spit masks over Manuel’s face. Manuel remained hogtied whereas Rankine continued making use of strain to his again.

By the point emergency responders arrived roughly seven minutes later and eliminated the spit hood, Manuel was unconscious, barely respiratory, and had a faint pulse. Paramedics unsuccessfully tried CPR. He was pronounced useless at 12:12am. A spent Taser cartridge and a smashed field of donuts had been discovered by his physique.

As investigators continued to course of the scene, at the very least 20 legislation enforcement officers from metropolis, county, and state businesses descended on the intersection of 96th Avenue and Ainsworth Avenue.

‘They watched him die’

Manuel died from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, because of bodily restraint, in response to a Pierce County Medical Examiner’s report. A pathologist concluded the style by which Ellis was hogtied and pinned face-down on the concrete had triggered vital respiratory misery, which had possible precipitated his demise.

The spit hood, the within of which was coated with Manuel’s blood and mucus, additional obstructed his respiratory, the health worker decided.

The model of spit masks used on Ellis got here with particular directions that it not be used on anybody affected by respiratory points, warning asphyxiation may outcome from improper use. On the time, the Tacoma Police Division didn’t have an official procedural coverage in place for methods to correctly deploy and apply spit masks.

Blood assessments revealed methamphetamine in Manuel’s system, however in response to his post-mortem, this possible wasn’t a consider his demise.

A mural depicts Manuel Ellis against a black background with the words Justice for Manny written beside it
A mural commemorating Manuel Ellis close to MLK Jr. Approach and South eleventh Road in Tacoma [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]

James Bible, the Ellis household’s lawyer, says the police account of what occurred to Manuel that night time has been “completely debunked”.

“Manuel Ellis was lynched,” Bible informed Al Jazeera English. “They choked him, tased him, threw him to the bottom, hogtied him, put a spit masks over his head, and watched him die. They then created a complete nother narrative.”

“[Manuel] was murdered. He died by, in the beginning, a callous disregard for human life,” Bible says.

‘How will you negotiate over an individual’s life?’

Manuel was killed almost three months earlier than anti-police protests swept the nation following the demise of George Floyd. When Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for greater than 9 minutes, he, too, had informed officers, “I can’t breathe.”

“With George [Floyd], every little thing was fast,” Marcia says, citing Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s homicide conviction and 22.5-year sentence in Floyd’s demise. “Inside months they’d every little thing settled.

“However for my son, we now have to attend for 2 years when it’s plain what the county coroner acknowledged in his paperwork – that my son was the sufferer of homicide, murder,” Marcia says. “There wasn’t no one else there that killed him.”

In June 2020, a state probe into Manuel’s demise was ordered.

Two Tacoma cops, Masyih Ford and Armando Farinas, who had been on-scene on the time of Manuel’s demise, had been exonerated of any coverage violations and restored to energetic responsibility.

However in Could 2021, Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins had been arrested and charged with second-degree homicide, and Timothy Rankine was arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter. All three have pleaded not responsible to felony costs. They’re at the moment suspended on paid administrative go away, a spokesperson for the Tacoma Police Division confirmed. They’ve all bonded out of jail, pending trial.

Brett Purtzer, Burbank’s lawyer declined to talk on-record on the open case when contacted by Al Jazeera. Collins’ authorized workforce didn’t reply to requests for remark. The Tacoma Police Division additionally declined to reply questions concerning the energetic investigation.

However Anne Melani Bremner, a defence lawyer for Rankine, informed Al Jazeera: “Officer Rankine didn’t do something improper. He assisted with help and did completely every little thing he was required to do after which some.”

“We’re vigorously defending the case,” the veteran police union lawyer defined. “He didn’t trigger the demise of Manny Ellis and he acted inside departmental tips and insurance policies.”

A pretrial standing convention listening to is ready for July 15, court docket data present. The case’s jury trial is anticipated to get below manner in October.

Final yr, Manuel’s household filed a federal civil lawsuit towards the Metropolis of Tacoma and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Workplace, in search of damages of $40m. On March 22, 2022, Pierce County Council accredited a partial $4m settlement associated to the involvement of two sheriff’s deputies’ in Manuel’s demise.

The settlement triggered blended emotions for Manuel’s household.

“It’s like they assume that Manny’s life was solely price $4m. How will you negotiate over an individual’s life and the price of all of it? It’s very sickening and it’s actually miserable,” says Manuel’s sister, Monét Carter-Mixon.

The household remains to be pursuing its federal civil declare towards the Metropolis of Tacoma.

‘It’s been hell’

Within the two years since her son was killed, Marcia has been in survival mode.

“I cried day-after-day, day-after-day for the entire first yr, okay?” she explains. “It’s been hell. I miss him each freaking day. I’m therapeutic, I’m mourning nonetheless and making an attempt to get via this time. Life has actually modified for all of us. It’s a tough highway that I’m strolling proper now however I’m strolling it as a result of that is the place I’m purported to be.”

Marcia Carter stands near her family's home
Marcia Carter pictured close to her household’s dwelling in Tacoma [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]

The grieving mom lives with lung illness, anxiousness, and melancholy — circumstances she says have worsened within the wake of her son’s demise.

“After [Manuel] handed is when my anxiousness degree elevated,” Marcia explains. “I’m mad. Mentally, it’s been off the chain. If I’m not on treatment, I’m no good. I’ve to have meds to maintain me centered and calm.”

She additionally suffers from microscopic polyangiitis, a uncommon sort of vasculitis, which damages blood vessels, induces power fatigue and may interrupt organ perform.

“It was like I used to be making an attempt to get out of a jail cell … simply get away, and I don’t know, simply be snug. It was exhausting. I didn’t know what I used to be going to do. Your coronary heart races. It’s such as you’re having a coronary heart assault, actually. You are feeling like that is the tip.”

‘Saved my soul’

There’s one factor, nevertheless, that has introduced Marcia a semblance of peace: gardening.

Specifically, she has discovered energy and solace in restoring the uncared for property the place her son took his last breaths and which she has became a makeshift memorial. She calls it “Manny’s Backyard”.

“That backyard proper there saved my soul from going to hell as a result of I used to be on my manner,” Marcia says. “That backyard gave me peace. It gave me life. It gave me love.”

Marcia Carter, wearing trousers and a t-shirt in a camouflage print and a face mask, stands in a garden beside a blue wooden sign with white painted letters spelling Manny's
Marcia Carter directs group volunteers at Manny’s Backyard in south Tacoma [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]

As Marcia speaks, a couple of dozen volunteers scurry about, weeding flower beds, and hauling wheelbarrows stuffed with landscaping rocks.

“I miss him day-after-day and all I can do is go to the cemetery,” she says. “God put it in my coronary heart. He mentioned: ‘Why don’t you create one thing stunning right here and as an alternative of going over there, after which crying on a regular basis, you already know, go over there and repair it up’. It was so nasty. It was filthy… the grass.”

‘He touched individuals’

Manuel’s homicide has taken a toll on your complete household.

“We stroll round feeling very empty,” 31-year-old Monét explains. “Like while you’re forgetting one thing and also you don’t know what it’s. That’s how I really feel like on a day-to-day foundation. After which I’m reminded rapidly, like, oh, it’s as a result of Manny’s not right here, that’s what’s gone.”

Manuel was a “gregarious” and “vibrant” “social butterfly,” in addition to a loving father of two, who adored music and “cracking jokes,” in response to his household.

“He touched individuals,” Marcia says. “My son liked his household and he liked his buddies. He was a superb particular person and he made you snigger. He was a comic. That boy was so humorous.”

The household’s center youngster, Manuel was deeply non secular and a lifelong musician.

Rising up, he performed soccer, took theatre courses, and fell in love with playing the drums.

Childhood abuse

However Manuel additionally endured nice trauma. His father died of abdomen most cancers two months after he was born. When his mom later remarried, Manuel’s stepfather bodily abused him.

“He by no means actually had his organic father in his life,” Monét says. “That made him really feel some sort of manner. He all the time questioned quite a bit, questioned quite a bit, as a result of my father, who my mother married after Manny’s father died, was very abusive however that was all Manny knew… Manny was sort of like my dad’s punching bag.”

As a toddler, he was additionally sexually abused by an older cousin, his sister mentioned. Manuel later started experimenting with medicine and alcohol as a young person.

“He began to be extra rebellious,” Monét says. “He began smoking weed and ingesting alcohol, going overboard. He was making an attempt to suppress what occurred to him as a toddler. He was by no means taught methods to course of [it].”

At 17, Manuel was arrested on theft costs. By 18, he had tried methamphetamine. By the age of 24, he was a each day person.

“That turned his drug of alternative,” Monét says.

As Manuel’s dependancy deepened, his psychological well being deteriorated. He was identified with schizophrenia, bipolar dysfunction, melancholy, ADHD, and PTSD, and was prescribed a number of medicines and temper stabilisers.

Manuel’s drug behavior led to plenty of encounters with police. In 2014, he pleaded responsible to second-degree identification theft, in response to separate court docket data. He was jailed for 23 days.

In 2019, police arrested Manuel for allegedly assaulting a fast-food employee throughout an tried theft whereas excessive on methamphetamine. Manuel was out on bail on the time of his demise. The case was dismissed in April 2020 – a month after Manuel’s demise.

‘This mild got here on him’

Within the weeks and months main as much as his lethal encounter with Tacoma police, Manuel was reworking his life, in response to his household and others who knew him.

In 2019, decided to get clear, he moved into God’s Arms Up, a sober-living dwelling in south Tacoma.

He moved right into a shared room within the group dwelling and rapidly earned a status as a respectful, type, and tidy tenant.

“He simply fell in love with goin’ to church,” Cedric Armstrong, a drug and alcohol counselor, who operates the transitional residing facility, informed detectives, in response to a police report.

A photograph of Manuel Ellis in a shop posing with a baseball bat
A ‘gifted’ drummer, Manuel was deeply non secular, in response to his household. The Washington father struggled with lifelong psychological well being and dependancy points [Monét Carter Mixon]

Manuel rapidly turned a fixture in his church group. He underwent drug remedy and was routinely screened — and examined adverse — for narcotics. By all accounts, Manuel was “flourishing.”

“Manny confirmed all people that, in the event you received a second likelihood, to make the most of that,” Cedric, 57, informed Al Jazeera by phone. “He was engaged on himself. This mild got here on him. He realized methods to snigger once more.”

He started taking part in the drums in his church’s band. On the night time he died, he had performed at a night worship service, in response to Cedric, his mentor and sponsor.

“Man, when he hopped on the drums, it simply blew me away,” Cedric mentioned. “His abilities had been positively subsequent degree…how his mind was considering of methods to organize these songs.”

Manuel additionally emerged as a pillar in his circle of relatives, significantly for his sister, a working mom of six, whose youngsters he usually babysat.

“My youthful two, he principally cared for them since they had been, like, newborns,” Monét says. “I didn’t need them to go to daycare. So he was a dependable childcare person who I had.”

Manuel additionally had two youngsters of his personal and was within the course of of building a relationship with them on the time of his demise.

“He wished to stroll on the trail that he was chosen to stroll on — he was bored with operating,” Marcia displays. “He was going to do the best factor. He was within the church 4 days per week taking part in the drums. He was there. I noticed the transformation in my son. He wished to do the best factor.”

A small wooden cross marks the spot on small patch of grass where Manuel Ellis was killed
A picket cross marks the world the place Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma cops [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]

‘Manny didn’t should die’

Because the household braces itself for the approaching homicide trial, Manuel’s demise has sparked police reform regionally and on a state degree.

It’s now necessary for all uniformed Tacoma cops to put on physique cameras and town’s police pressure has additionally banned chokeholds and neck restraints, applied a process for spit masks, and up to date procedures surrounding using leg restraints.

Pushed partially by Manuel’s demise, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed sweeping police reform laws banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds and tear fuel, and proscribing plenty of different controversial police techniques. Manuel’s demise additionally triggered the creation of a state activity pressure in 2020 to supervise impartial opinions of police-involved killings.

“Manny didn’t should die,” Marcia says. “I miss him. It hurts my coronary heart. He needed to be the sacrifice for the household. However I do know he received his crown … My son is in no extra ache.”

Leave a Reply