WSP report raises questions over officers’ accounts of Manuel Ellis death

Feb 3, 2021, 11:35 AM | Updated: Feb 4, 2021, 7:30 am

Manuel Ellis, independent investigations...

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)

(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Manuel Ellis died at the hands of Tacoma police in March 2020. Now, a report compiled by Washington State Patrol casts doubt on conflicting testimony delivered by officers involved in Ellis’ death.

Manuel Ellis family attorney frustrated by ‘mockery of justice’

Ellis — who had initially been stopped for allegedly attempting to break into a car — 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.

Video recordings — including one from a nearby Amazon Ring camera — and witness statements confirm that Ellis told officers he was unable to breathe numerous times. Testimony from the officers themselves, though, conflicts with that evidence, according to a report on WSP’s investigation from the Seattle Times.

That includes a statement from TPD Officer Christopher Burbank, when asked by investigators whether it was clear Ellis was struggling to breathe prior to his death.

“Not that I recall, no,” he answered, contrary to video evidence showing Ellis stating, “I can’t breathe, sir.”

Testimony from Burbank and fellow officer Matthew Collins — who first engaged Ellis together — differs in several key ways, casting doubt on their account of the night’s events.

According to Collins, Ellis lifted him off the ground “like a child” and threw him into the street. Burbank’s account leaves that detail out, describing a scuffle between Collins and Ellis in simpler terms as “a melee.”

As the conflict escalated, Collins said he attempted to employ a chokehold on Ellis, while Burbank reported discharging his Taser on him four times.

“It appeared (Ellis) wasn’t affected by anything,” Burbank claimed.

Video and accounts from eyewitnesses tell a different story. While video does show Collins holding Ellis in a chokehold from behind while Burbank discharged his Taser, Ellis appeared not to be resisting, instead holding his hands up and attempting to capitulate to the officers.

Photos: Vigil in Tacoma for Manuel Ellis

After the Taser brought Ellis to the ground, Collins can be seen pressing Ellis’ head down with his knees, all while officers can be seen hitting him repeatedly.

“None of the footage, or the people who recorded it, show Ellis acting violently toward officers, although he is squirming as the officers described,” the Seattle Times’ recounting of the video evidence details.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson received WSP’s investigation in early November, labeling it the “top priority” for his office’s Criminal Justice Division. Ellis’ death was ruled a homicide by the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Officer early last summer.

Four TPD officers — including Collins and Burbank — were placed on paid leave shortly after the medical examiner’s declaration. The WSP’s report does not contain recommendations concerning whether the involved officers should or shouldn’t be punished.

Local News

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

KIRO 7 News Staff

Space Needle begins four-year elevator construction project

This week the Space Needle will begin a four-year construction project to modernize their iconic golden elevators.

11 minutes ago

FILE - The Amazon logo is displayed, Sept. 6, 2012, in Santa Monica, Calif. Amazon's profitable clo...

Haleluya Hadero, Associated Press

Amazon sued by FTC and 17 states over allegations it inflates online prices and overcharges sellers

The FTC filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon on Tuesday, alleging the e-commerce behemoth uses its position in the marketplace to inflate prices

32 minutes ago

FILE - In this Dec. 27, 2012, file photo, a variety of military-style semi-automatic rifles obtaine...

L.B. Gilbert

Another judge sides with Washington on upholding gun control legislation

For the fourth time in less than four months, a federal judge agreed with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, ruling to reject another attempt to block Washington's new law regulating firearms.

2 hours ago

coast guard current search...

L.B. Gilbert

Woman swept away by current, Coast Guard searching waters near La Push

A search is underway for a 26-year-old woman who may have been swept into the ocean off the Washington coast in Clallam County late Monday morning.

3 hours ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

Bridget Chavez, KIRO 7 News

Burien leaders voice opinions as city council votes to ban camping by razor-thin margin

Starting November 1, public camping will no longer be allowed within the Burien city limits. A controversial ordinance passed by the Burien City Council bans camping in public spaces between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

3 hours ago

KYIV, UKRAINE - 2022/09/03: A man looks at an image generated based on the stories of displaced chi...

Associated Press

Tech companies try to take AI image generators mainstream with better protections against misuse

Artificial intelligence tools that can conjure whimsical artwork or realistic-looking images from written commands started wowing the public last year. But most people don't actually use them at work or home.

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

WSP report raises questions over officers’ accounts of Manuel Ellis death