Attorney for Ellis family: We need a ‘fully independent investigatory agency’
Bail has been set for three Tacoma officers charged in the Manuel Ellis case as of Friday, but it first took 14 months for the charging decision to be made, announced Thursday by the state Attorney General’s Office, after the investigation made its way through three different agencies.
“What has become most clear in this process is that police are wholly incapable of investigating themselves,” said James Bible, the attorney for the family of Manuel Ellis, on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “What we had is the Pierce County Sheriff’s office first doing a sham investigation that misled the people with their current sheriff and actually hid information.”
“They actually had the audacity to turn around and try to submit search warrants for Manny’s information through judges in a situation where they listed Manny as a suspect when he clearly was not because you can never charge a person that was deceased,” Bible added.
After learning about that and a conflict of interest, Bible says they then demanded that the state take over the case.
“They used the Washington State Patrol and, frankly, the Washington State Patrol did a poor job of investigating this matter,” he said. “Finally, the attorney general took it themselves, had their own private investigators, their own investigators that they had assigned. And got a special prosecutor who actually thoroughly investigated this information. We are where we are now because of that.”
Bible says there is institutional inequity that allows for homicides like this to occur at the hands of officers.
“There are people that are charged with the crime in this case, but there are definitely enablers along the way in the system,” he said. “And we have to address all of those enablers and be in a place where we actually unpack all of that, which is what we’re fully prepared to do for this state.”
What does Bible think it will take for the media or the public to believe families, or at least give their stories the same credibility that they give to police in these narratives?
“At this stage, given what we’ve seen, if any law enforcement agency refuses to have body cams, doesn’t have in-car dash camera, doesn’t have a means of recording their interactions with the community — as a community, as a nation, we should give deference to those that say the officers did something wrong,” Bible said. “We’re in a modern era. So given that the Tacoma Police Department didn’t have any means of recording what occurred, we’re in a place where the deference should be towards Manny.”
“And thankfully, in this case, we have people that actually had the strength to film it. They had the strength to stand there and say, ‘no, stop, don’t do this. This is scary.’ And came forward,” he added.
Bible clarified that the deference should be given to the person who does not have the ability to record.
“The deference most clearly should be to the person that is in a place where they didn’t have control of the ability to record the event,” he said. “If you’re walking down the street and a police officer approaches you and you don’t have the time to pull out your cell phone, or you are afraid because they might shoot you in the face and claim that they thought your cell phone was a gun, then the folks that were in control and in power should logically have the best technological devices possible to record the event.”
As far as what the family of Manny Ellis has had to go through, Bible says the pain isn’t anything he’d wish on another human being.
“They’ve become the first family to have the Washington State Attorney General’s office actually file charges, criminal charges, against officers that have killed a loved one, but they don’t want to be first,” he said. “They want to be in a place where they have their loved one back, where he actually sits at their dinner table, and at their kitchen table, helps them pick up their nephews and nieces, where he’s able to show up at his children’s birthday parties and give them presents and hugs, and do all the daily things that he did for all of his family.”
“They’re heartbroken, and everywhere they go, they have a piece of their heart missing,” he continued. “When you look around the city of Tacoma where they all grew up and they see the different places where they spent time with Manny, it hurts, it’s painful.”
Moving forward, Bible says it’s likely going to be up to communities to thoroughly investigate these kinds of matters, “to pound the pavement,” and to get questions answered.
“We need a fully independent investigatory agency, and by fully independent, I mean absent of law enforcement,” he said. “The reality is that, frankly, public defenders would be better situated to prosecute police officers than many of the folks that we have reviewing and evaluating whether or not charges should come.”