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Gov. Inslee expects answers on Ellis’ death, police response at Seattle protests

Gov. Inslee on Wednesday, June 3. (TVW)

“I’ve seen a few things that are troublesome that need answers to these incidents,” Gov. Inslee said about police response to protests in downtown Seattle in the past week.

Watch Inslee’s news conference

One of those incidents came to light today, thanks to The Tacoma News Tribune, which reports that a 33-year-old black man died while he was being restrained by Tacoma police officers on March 3. Manuel Ellis died of respiratory arrest, due to hypoxia, the Tribune reports. The Pierce County Medical Examiner determined Ellis’ death was a homicide.

At the time of their late night encounter with Ellis, officials said Ellis was suffering from excited delirium, the Tribune reports. They added that that may have been why Ellis allegedly banged on an officer’s patrol car and tried to attack two officer who were trying to calm him down. The autopsy also revealed that Ellis had drugs in his system.

In the police recording, Ellis could be heard saying, “Can’t breathe.”

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards released a statement on the city’s website. In part:

As we work together to dismantle systemic racism and other harmful constructs that do not support our shared vision of Tacoma – a diverse, compassionate city with its sights set on a positive future and a better world – today we pause.

We pause amidst our struggle with the current public health and economic crisis, as well as the flood of emotions stirred up by the tragic and unacceptable death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and reflect on the grief and sadness of Manuel Ellis’ family and loved ones.

Washington State Patrol video

Inslee also addressed the actions of a Washington State Patrol trooper at a protest in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. He said he’s asked Chief Baptiste to investigate the incident.

An officer was heard Tuesday night, saying, “Don’t kill them, but hit them hard.” The video circulated on Twitter.

The Washington State Patrol said the officer was trying to motivate and reassure his team.

In part: “WSP must offer a heartfelt apology for verbiage used by one of our troopers responding to a protest in Seattle. A video posted on social media shows one of our rapid deployment team leaders telling the men and women under his command not to “kill ‘em” but “hit ‘em hard.” We apologize for the poor choice of words by one our team leaders preparing his troopers for a possibly confrontational situation and recognize the hurt and confusion it has caused.

“Make no mistake, we share in the appropriate outrage people are feeling and expressing about what happened in Minneapolis. We are aware of the tensions between law enforcement and communities of color, and recognize the importance of our words and actions. Part of our job is to respect, honor, and defend the rights of free speech and peaceful protest every single day. We also have a unique role in responding to crisis situations where some people have or may act unlawfully and take advantage of any righteous outrage. Physical force is not our primary or desired tactic when crowd response needs arise. Any use of force is calibrated with an assessment of what is necessary, reasonable, and proportionate to the given situation.” Read the full statement here.

Police response at Seattle protests

The governor said that Mayor Durkan has promised the Office of Police Accountability will investigate each complaint and he believes it’s important that she delivers on that promise. Durkan said on Tuesday there were 12,000 complaints to the office.

Mayor Durkan vows to meet with Seattle protest organizers

Inslee also said he knows that law enforcement is tense and difficult during these tense situations.

“We have high expectations and most of the time they have been fulfilled,” Inslee said.

He credited protest organizers with not letting their demonstrations be mired by the actions of a few who’ve caused destruction. He remains hopeful for change, but said we all have a lot of work to do for equal opportunities for health care, housing, and education.

“I think it’s important in thinking about our challenges right now, that these challenges are not just about police reform or judicial reform,” Inslee said. “In order for us to have a really fair and just society, there is so much more we have to focus on.”

Inslee said he plans to meet with protest organizers today, including leaders from Not This Time!

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