Three Washington state police officers charged in the 2020 fatal shooting of Manuel Ellis were acquitted of all charges after a grueling two-month trial in which Ellis was accused of self-defense in his death.
Officers Matthew Collins, 40, and Christopher Burbank, 38, were facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in connection with the death of Ellis, who was Black, on March 3, 2020. A third officer, Timothy Rankine, 34, he faced charges of first-degree murder.
During the trial, prosecutors told jurors how the officers knocked Ellis to the ground and punched him, choked him and shot him with a Taser until he died. Before he was killed, Ellis whispered to officers, “I can't breathe, sir.”
The lawsuit was the first filed under Washington's Proposition 940, a new and twice-amended police accountability law that allowed prosecutors to bring murder charges without having to prove malice. The officers remained employed and on paid leave from the Tacoma Police Department and free on bail throughout the proceedings, The Seattle Times References.
The officers and their families heaved a sigh of relief before leaving the courtroom escorted by sheriff's deputies. Meanwhile, members of Ellis' family in the courtroom grabbed headphones and began to cry as the acquittal was announced, according to KING5.
“I would just be careful,” Judge Bryan Chushcoff said The times. “A lot of emotions are running high right now”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a statement thanking the jury and his legal team, also recognizing the Ellis family.
“I want to start by thanking the jury and the court staff for their service,” Mr Ferguson said. wrote to X. “I also want to thank the members of my legal team for their extraordinary hard work and dedication. I know the Ellis family is hurting and my heart goes out to them.”
Lawyers representing the defendants argued in court that Ellis was the aggressor and that he attacked the officers with “superhuman strength” and eventually died of a drug overdose and a damaged heart. The defense also made controversial characterizations of the circumstances of Ellis' death, directly accusing him of being “paranoid” and ultimately “[causing] his own death.”
Ellis' cause and manner of death was ruled a homicide caused by lack of oxygen due to physical restraint. Ellis was lying on his stomach, his legs and arms bound and his body pressed against the concrete, while the officers rested their weight on him. The News Tribune References.
The defense had focused on the levels of methamphetamine in Ellis' body at the time of his death and an enlarged heart noted in the autopsy report.
Three witnesses said they saw the officers sitting in their patrol car as Ellis approached and walked to the passenger side. When Ellis turned to leave, Burbank opened the door and knocked Ellis to the ground, witnesses said.
Prosecutors also played video recorded by witnesses for the jury.
Burbank and Collins gave their official statements before they knew there was audio and video of the meeting, Ms. Eakes said. They claimed that Ellis attacked them violently and mercilessly and did not say a coherent word.
“But you know that's not true,” Ms Eakes told the jury. “He did speak after he was pinned to the ground. He said he couldn't breathe, sir, nice and pretty.'
When Mr Rankin appeared and pinned Ellis to the ground, despite being handcuffed, Ellis said he could not breathe three more times.
Mr. Rankin responded by saying, “If you talk to me, you can breathe just fine.” After that, they put hoods on Ellis' ankles and connected them to his handcuffs.