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Manuel Ellis’ family requests independent investigation of his death

People hold signs during a vigil for Manuel Ellis, a black man whose March death while in Tacoma Police custody was recently found to be a homicide, near the site of his death on June 3, 2020 in Tacoma, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

The Pierce County Sheriff’s office is investigating the death of a 33-year-old African American man in police custody. Manuel Ellis died March 3, 2020, from a lack of oxygen, after being restrained by Tacoma police. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but found drugs and a heart condition also contributed to Ellis’ death.

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Photos: Vigil in Tacoma for Manuel Ellis

James Bible, the Ellis family’s attorney, said the city of Tacoma and the police department lacks transparency. He added that the Pierce County Sheriff’s office should not be investigating Ellis’ death because the sheriff’s office and the Tacoma Police Department work together.

“They worked too closely together, they’re too linked, they’re in essentially the same jurisdiction,” he said. “And I think that all they’re trying to create is some sort of illusion that they did something without sharing information with the public.”

Ellis’ family wants an independent investigation, and their demands could be met this week, KIRO Radio reports. The Tacoma City Council could ask Gov. Inslee to order a review of Manny Ellis’ death.

Bible said Ellis’ death is a reflection of what’s happening across the country.

“The harsh reality is that those things that afflict our entire nation in terms of police accountability, also afflict the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

On the day Ellis died, police say he had been harassing a woman at an intersection. When officers arrived, he repeatedly struck their patrol car. He reportedly picked up one officer by the vest and slammed him to the ground, then there was a struggle before police handcuffed Ellis on the ground.

Bible painted a different picture of that day.

“He had participated in his church band as a drummer, he had spent time talking to his family on the phone, he had spent time with several other people during that day just prior to this event,” Bible said. “And nobody indicated that there was any problem with Manny Ellis.”

“Nobody indicated that he was being aggressive or demonstrating any sort of bizarre behavior, or anything to that effect,” he added.

Bible said the bottom line is: “An unarmed black man was killed by police via suffocation.”

The News Tribune reports the sheriff’s office is expected to release its findings next week. The four officers involved in this case have been placed on administrative leave.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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