Tacoma Mayor wants officers involved in Manuel Ellis’ death fired, prosecuted

Jun 4, 2020, 10:57 PM | Updated: Jun 5, 2020, 11:18 am
manuel ellis...
A person holds a sign during a vigil for Manuel Ellis, a black man whose March death while in Tacoma Police custody. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards wants police officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis fired.

Manuel Ellis’ family requests independent investigation of his death
Photos: Vigil in Tacoma for Manuel Ellis

“The officers who committed this crime should be fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Woodards said in a Thursday night news conference.

Watch the Woodards’ statement on the city’s Facebook page

Woodards is asking the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to review and detail every action made by each officer. She’s also demanding that the Tacoma City Manager fire each officer involved.

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.

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.

The Tacoma News Tribune posted video from Ellis’ encounter with police the night he died.

“As the family mentioned to us this morning, it does take a video for so many people to believe the truth about systemetic racism and its violent impact on black lives, on my life,” Woodards said. “In order to ensure that every family, that every single family get the justice that they deserve, I’m also directing the City Manager to move forward with allocated funding for body cams immediately. We have waited way too long. We have heard way too many excuses. It stops tonight and we move forward.”

Woodards addressed racism and called on her community to make changes.

“We need to hold space in the media, in this city, in this country not just for discussions on racism but how we’re going to dismantle the systems that continue to make it OK. We live in a nation where too many black lives have been lost and I don’t want to see another one.

“To the family, I say again, my heartfelt apologies. To my community, I call on my community, the citizens of Tacoma, please stand with us, please stand by us and to continue to hold us accountable to take these actions that you elected us to take.”

Woodards encouraged her community to embrace uncertainty that comes with change and she promised to stand beside them as they work to make those changes.

“We will not heal and we will not move forward until there is real change,” Woodards said.

The Tacoma Police Union responded to Woodards’ statement Friday morning, claiming that the mayor’s call to fire and prosecute the officers involved in Ellis’ death comes “without an ounce of evidence to support her words beyond misplaced rage.”

The full written statement from the union reads as follows:

Earlier this evening, Mayor Woodards spoke at a press conference about an officer involved incident in March 2020. Without any facts, without an investigation, without due process, and with less than a minute of short, blurry, partial Twitter videos in hand, the Mayor passed judgment on the actions of four Tacoma Police Officers. She called them criminals. She called for their prosecution. She called for their termination from employment. And she called for all of these things without an ounce of evidence to support her words beyond misplaced rage.

We are a country built upon values. What happened in Minneapolis to George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was wrong. It was repugnant to the badge. It was repugnant to humanity. But understand; Tacoma is not Minneapolis. The incident involving Mr. Ellis here in Tacoma was not the same as the incident involving Mr. Floyd. Tacoma Officers Burbank, Collins, Ford, and Rankine did not murder Mr. Ellis.

What’s perhaps most shocking in the Mayor’s statement is her lack of knowledge about any of the four involved officers. Does she know that one of the officers is African-American? Does she know that they are fathers and sons, brothers and uncles? Does she know that some are military veterans who served our nation with honor? Does she even care? Apparently not, if it means interfering with her hyperbolic storyline that four Tacoma officers murdered an African-American man.

Our values tell us that when a life is lost, we must thoroughly investigate what happened to learn why it happened. The Tacoma Police Union welcomes any full and fair investigation into the events involving Mr. Ellis. We welcome the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s review. We welcome the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s review. Because with all of the facts – with evidence of what actually happened in hand – the public will see that these four officers did no wrong.

This is a time for leadership. This is a time for reason. This is a time for healing our Nation, our State, and our City. This is not the time to sacrifice dedicated public servants at the altar of public sentiment, especially when that sentiment is almost wholly fueled by the uninformed anger of a theatrical politician.

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Tacoma Mayor wants officers involved in Manuel Ellis’ death fired, prosecuted