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Report details previously unidentified police officers involved in death of 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)

A new report released Wednesday revealed that there were two previously unidentified officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis while in police custody in March 2020.

Photos: Vigil in Tacoma for Manuel Ellis

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.

Wednesday’s report provided details on the two additional officers. One — an off-duty sheriff’s department sergeant — assisted in pushing Ellis’ leg in to hogtie him while handcuffed and lying flat on the ground. The other was a Tacoma police officer who placed a spit guard over Ellis’ head. In total, six officers were involved. Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards had previously called for the four officers identified early on to be fired and prosecuted.

Ellis had complained to officers while being restrained that he couldn’t breathe, echoing a similar scenario that played out for George Floyd months later in Minnesota, which led to a summer of heated protests and calls for police reform across the nation.

In June, the Pierce County Medical Examiner determined Ellis’ death was a homicide.

“It is clear that Manuel Ellis was murdered,” James Bible, an attorney representing Ellis’ family, told the Seattle Times in a phone interview. “It’s clear that he was on his stomach, that he was hobbled, that he was bleeding from his mouth and that he was telling officers ‘I can’t breathe, sir’ when the officers so callously disregarded his humanity and then put a spit mask over his head.”

Tacoma mayor vows answers after police custody death ruled a homicide

A September report published by the Seattle Times on the initial investigation into Ellis’ death had found that initial findings were “flawed from the start,” containing numerous inconsistencies and neglecting to speak to several key witnesses.

While police had described the incident as an unfortunate accident that resulted from Ellis acting aggressively toward police officers, eye witnesses reported a different series of events where they claim police escalated the situation unnecessarily.

Ellis’ family filed a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Tacoma in August, while an independent investigation announced by Gov. Jay Inslee continues to play out.

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