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Washington State Patrol to investigate Manuel Ellis’ death in police custody

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

Gov. Inslee spoke Wednesday to address the many “tough challenges” Washington state faces right now. One of these challenges is demand for racial justice, on which Inslee said there needs to be action. The governor’s office ordered the Washington State Patrol to begin a new investigation of Manual Ellis’ death in Tacoma while he was in police custody.

Inslee said part of the reason this independent investigation is taking place is because it appears provisions of Initiative 940 were not followed. He added that the Washington State Patrol’s investigation will move forward in compliance of the voter-approved initiative, which requires community members to assist in reviewing members of the investigative team. Inslee also said it requires a family liaison to be part of the investigative team.

Inslee said the State Patrol will immediately start to form a team for the investigation and could be expected to begin work by the end of the next week.

Ellis died on 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.

New video of Ellis’ death, obtained by the Tacoma News Tribune, paints a clearer picture of the moments leading up to his final moments.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department had been tasked to investigate the death, despite repeated calls from Ellis’ family for an investigation independent of local law enforcement.

Inslee previously said that the fact the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department had officers at the scene when Ellis died constituted “an irreconcilable conflict” for the county prosecutor set to review the case, and that an entity “independent of Pierce County law enforcement” should take over instead.

“The state will ensure an independent investigation and independent prosecutorial review into the death of Manuel Ellis,” Inslee promised previously. “We will ensure that the work is done free of conflicts of interest.”

It was unclear last week who would be investigating the case, as it was reported that a Washington State Patrol member had been on scene. Inslee said Wednesday that this trooper was determined to have had limited involvement, but they will not at all be involved in the investigation moving forward.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards has been outspoken in her support for the Ellis family, calling for the firing, prosecution, and arrests of the officers involved in the incident.

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