Ellis family attorney views exoneration of two Tacoma officers as ‘deeply troubling’

Dec 22, 2021, 12:34 PM
Manuel Ellis, Tacoma...
People listen during a vigil for Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died in March 2020 while in Tacoma Police custody. (File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Two Tacoma police officers who were at the scene of Manuel Ellis’ death will be returning to work.

2 Tacoma officers involved in death of Manuel Ellis exonerated following investigation

“My initial reaction was one in which I was not surprised that the city of Tacoma would seek to absolve itself of any wrongdoing,” said James Bible, an attorney representing the Ellis family, about the decision to exonerate two officers.

“They know that their officers said ‘shut the f- up’ at the time that Manuel Ellis was pleading for his last breath, saying, ‘I can’t breathe, sir.’ And they sought to ignore the issues and return two officers back to their workforce,” he added.

He told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show the city of Tacoma can’t be trusted to protect civil rights.

“The investigative process in the city of Tacoma was one that lets us know that Tacoma can’t be trusted to be a good steward of city resources, can’t be trusted to be in a space where they actually protect civil and human rights in the city of Tacoma,” Bible said.

“I think that at this stage, we are at a place where the Department of Justice makes the most sense in terms of evaluating what’s happening in the city of Tacoma, and making sure that there’s some form of authentic change, and protection of human dignity and rights,” Bible continued.

One of the two exonerated officers applied a spit hood, and the second held Ellis’ legs.

“What the chief indicated was that these particular officers were actually in a place where they had not violated any policy of the city of Tacoma and police department, which is something that we find deeply troubling,” Bible said.

“As he was saying, ‘I can’t breathe, sir,’ and was hogtied, laying on his stomach on the ground with other people on his body, it actually says that under those conditions, you’re not supposed to use that kind of spit mask,” Bible said.

The attorney says there was no training or policy in place in Tacoma in relation to spit masks.

“Ultimately, I think that they were completely in violation of initiative 940 in just about every way possible,” he said.

“After Manuel was choked, beaten, Tazed, said ‘I can’t breathe, sir,’ had the spit mask put over his head, they stood there and they watched him die,” Bible said.

Family, attorneys disappointed in exoneration of Tacoma police officers

An internal department probe, which included information from the county, state, and attorney general, found the two officers’ actions were reasonable and appropriate.

Three other officers face criminal charges in Ellis’ death in March of 2020.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ellis family attorney views exoneration of two Tacoma officers as ‘deeply troubling’