Officers’ lawyers challenge analysis of video that shows Black man’s death in Tacoma, Washington

Oct 5, 2023, 12:30 PM | Updated: 3:48 pm

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Lawyers for three police officers charged in the death of Manny Ellis on Thursday challenged a forensic video analyst’s interpretation of videos shot by witnesses that show the Black man’s fatal arrest in Tacoma, Washington.

Later in the afternoon, Ellis’ sister, Monét Carter-Mixon, said weeks went by after his death and she still didn’t know what happened, so she took to social media to try to learn the truth. That’s how she connected with one of the witnesses who took video of the incident.

Tacoma Officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank, both white, are charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Ellis on March 3, 2020. Officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian American, is charged with manslaughter. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Video evidence is key in the case against the officers. The officers say Ellis was violent toward them during the encounter, but the videos and witness statements indicate he didn’t fight back.

On Wednesday, forensic video analyst Grant Fredericks walked the jury through one of the videos, frame by frame. It shows Collins on the ground behind Ellis with his hands near his neck, and Burbank aiming his Taser at Ellis’ chest.

As Ellis holds his hands in the air in a posture indicating surrender, Burbank fires the Taser and Collins puts his arm around Ellis’ neck in a chokehold. Ellis’ head falls to the ground, and he stops moving.

On Thursday, attorney Jared Ausserer, representing Collins, said the video shows Ellis did not follow the officers’ repeated commands.

“Collins could be heard saying put your hands behind your back,” Ausserer said. “At no point does he put his hands behind his back.”

Fredericks disagreed. “He put his hand behind his back. The video shows it,” he said.

As they played portions of the video over and over, Ausserer said it appeared that Ellis “dragged” Burbank down to the ground when he shifted his hips, but Fredericks said the video suggests that Burbank simply lost his balance.

Carter-Mixon, five years younger than her brother, said they were very close. He babysat her five children, made them oatmeal for breakfast and helped pack school lunches.

“He was my best friend. He was my person,” she said. “When I needed him, he was always there.”

She supported him later in life when he was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. She encouraged him to get help for his drug addiction and took him to appointments with a physiatrist and counselor.

Carter-Mixon was working when she received call from the medical examiner’s office saying they had her brother’s body. She had no idea what happened.

“I started looking up anything I could find about a Black man being killed in Tacoma, Washington, on March 3,” she said. She scoured Google, Facebook, Tacompton Files for any news. She spoke with someone at the clean and sober home where Ellis lived and talked to the clerk at the 7-Eleven Ellis had visited the night he died.

Finally, she received a response. A woman contacted her saying she had information.

“You’re really going to want to see the video,” Sara McDowell said. “The information the cops gave and everywhere is a lie.”

When prosecutors played one of the videos on Wednesday showing Collins holding Ellis on the ground and Ellis screaming as he was shocked with the Taser, sobs could be heard from the side of the courtroom where Ellis’ family and supporters were seated.

They also played video from a doorbell security camera from a home across the street. The camera captures Ellis’s pleas: “Can’t breathe, sir, Can’t breathe.”

This is the first trial under a five-year-old Washington state law designed to make it easier to prosecute police who wrongfully use deadly force.

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Officers’ lawyers challenge analysis of video that shows Black man’s death in Tacoma, Washington