‘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 law enforcement officials as he walked house from a comfort retailer two years in the past. His closing 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 steerage counselor provides.

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

He was 33 years outdated.

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 lifeless.

A couple of blocks from the shop, whereas strolling east alongside 96th Road, Manuel encountered Tacoma law enforcement officials 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 that they had first seen Manuel performing erratically and chasing after an unidentified motorist’s automobile at a set of close by site visitors lights.

The 2 officers informed detectives that Manuel then started banging on their police cruiser, attacked them as they exited the car, and fought their makes an attempt to detain him, in the end leading to his demise, based on 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 the town police’s model of occasions. Particularly, 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 house 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 (considered one of whom filmed cell phone footage of the encounter) stated 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 temporary change as “peaceable” and “respectful” and stated Manuel displayed “no indicators of aggression”.

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

“[Manuel] Ellis was not combating again,” a possible trigger assertion obtained by Al Jazeera English stated. The doc that particulars the premise for expenses 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 by means of Manuel’s physique, based on prosecutors.

As Manuel lay handcuffed on the concrete, gasping for breath, he repeated the phrases — “I can’t breathe” — a number of occasions. In response to 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 house, 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 prime 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 midst of his backbone, on his decrease again,” based on the possible trigger assertion.

Cell phone video, shot from a distinct 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 stated, based on prosecutors.

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

Manuel repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe” a minimum of 3 times 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,” based on the case’s possible trigger assertion.

Manuel, who was bleeding from his face, then started to “snore,” based on 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,” based on 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 respiration, and had a faint pulse. Paramedics unsuccessfully tried CPR. He was pronounced lifeless 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, a minimum of 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, resulting from bodily restraint, based on a Pierce County Medical Examiner’s report. A pathologist concluded the way through which Ellis was hogtied and pinned face-down on the concrete had triggered important respiratory misery, which had possible prompted his demise.

The spit hood, the within of which was coated with Manuel’s blood and mucus, additional obstructed his respiration, the medical expert decided.

The model of spit masks used on Ellis got here with particular directions that it not be used on anybody affected by respiration 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 the best way to correctly deploy and apply spit masks.

Blood checks revealed methamphetamine in Manuel’s system, however based on 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. Method 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 evening 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, at the start, a callous disregard for human life,” Bible says.

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

Manuel was killed practically 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], the whole lot was fast,” Marcia says, citing Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s homicide conviction and 22.5-year sentence in Floyd’s demise. “Inside months that they had the whole lot 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 law enforcement officials, 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 obligation.

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 expenses. They’re at present suspended on paid administrative depart, 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 incorrect. He assisted with support and did completely the whole lot 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, courtroom data present. The case’s jury trial is anticipated to get below method in October.

Final 12 months, Manuel’s household filed a federal civil lawsuit in opposition to the Metropolis of Tacoma and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Workplace, in search of damages of $40m. On March 22, 2022, Pierce County Council authorised 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 suppose 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 continues to be pursuing its federal civil declare in opposition to 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 on daily basis, on daily basis for the entire first 12 months, okay?” she explains. “It’s been hell. I miss him each freaking day. I’m therapeutic, I’m mourning nonetheless and attempting to get by means of this time. Life has actually modified for all of us. It’s a troublesome street that I’m strolling proper now however I’m strolling it as a result of that is the place I’m speculated to be.”

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

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

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

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

“It was like I used to be attempting to get out of a jail cell … simply get away, and I don’t know, simply be comfy. It was onerous. 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’re feeling like that is the tip.”

‘Saved my soul’

There may be one factor, nonetheless, that has introduced Marcia a semblance of peace: gardening.

Particularly, she has discovered energy and solace in restoring the uncared for property the place her son took his closing 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 method,” 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 few dozen volunteers scurry about, weeding flower beds, and hauling wheelbarrows filled with landscaping rocks.

“I miss him on daily basis and all I can do is go to the cemetery,” she says. “God put it in my coronary heart. He stated: ‘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 recognize, go over there and repair it up’. It was so nasty. It was filthy… the grass.”

‘He touched folks’

Manuel’s homicide has taken a toll on the 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,” based on his household.

“He touched folks,” Marcia says. “My son cherished his household and he cherished his mates. He was a superb individual and he made you snigger. He was a comic. That boy was so humorous.”

The household’s center baby, Manuel was deeply religious 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 method. He all the time questioned rather a lot, questioned rather a lot, 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 stated. Manuel later started experimenting with medicine and alcohol as a youngster.

“He began to be extra rebellious,” Monét says. “He began smoking weed and consuming alcohol, going overboard. He was attempting to suppress what occurred to him as a toddler. He was by no means taught the best way to course of [it].”

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

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

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

Manuel’s drug behavior led to various encounters with police. In 2014, he pleaded responsible to second-degree identification theft, based on separate courtroom 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 remodeling his life, based on his household and others who knew him.

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

He moved right into a shared room within the group house and rapidly earned a fame as a respectful, variety, and tidy tenant.

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

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

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

“Manny confirmed everyone that, for those who obtained 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 discovered the best way to snigger once more.”

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

“Man, when he hopped on the drums, it simply blew me away,” Cedric stated. “His expertise had been positively subsequent stage…how his mind was pondering of the best way to prepare these songs.”

Manuel additionally emerged as a pillar in his circle of relatives, notably for his sister, a working mom of six, whose youngsters he typically 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 needed to stroll on the trail that he was chosen to stroll on — he was uninterested in operating,” Marcia displays. “He was going to do the best factor. He was within the church 4 days every week taking part in the drums. He was there. I noticed the transformation in my son. He needed 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 realm the place Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma law enforcement officials [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 domestically and on a state stage.

It’s now necessary for all uniformed Tacoma law enforcement officials to put on physique cameras and the town’s police power has additionally banned chokeholds and neck restraints, applied a process for spit masks, and up to date procedures surrounding the usage of leg restraints.

Pushed partially by Manuel’s demise, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed sweeping police reform laws banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds and tear gasoline, and limiting various different controversial police techniques. Manuel’s demise additionally triggered the creation of a state job power in 2020 to supervise unbiased 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 obtained his crown … My son is in no extra ache.”

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