Manuel Ellis family attorney: Evidence ‘suggests’ he was choked ‘on purpose’

Dec 15, 2023, 1:07 PM

Manuel Ellis arrest, Tacoma police officers...

A protester holds a sign that reads "Justice for Manny" in this June 5, 2020 file photo. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

One of Manuel Ellis’ attorneys said the evidence “suggests that (he) was choked on purpose.”

The trial of three Tacoma police officers — Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine — has been in the hands of the jury since Thursday. The officers face charges in connection to a March 3, 2020 arrest that led to Ellis dying in police custody.

Officers allegedly struck and tased Ellis, placed him in handcuffs and a hobble, and applied pressure to his back while he was facedown.

Burbank and Collins are charged with second-degree murder, and all three officers are charged with first-degree manslaughter. The jury must consider all charges separately leading some experts to believe that deliberations might take awhile.

“To be clear, the evidence suggests that Manny was choked clearly on purpose, and the officers wrote as much in their police reports,” Ellis’ attorney James Bible said appearing on The Gee & Ursula Show. “So it’s not really about whether or not it was accidental.”

Bible explained that he can never really predict what a jury will decide, but did say he had some intriguing information.

“The most recent question is related to whether or not officers are responsible for the cumulative force that everybody used on that particular night, which is evidence that they’re sincerely evaluating the information, the evidence, and exactly what happened,” Bible explained.

Related news: Defense digs into Manuel Ellis’ drug use at trial of Washington officers accused in man’s death

He said he noticed that the jury was “delving deeply into the facts,” and that there is “some real analysis happening.” Bible said the jury sent back two questions: Is strangulation by accident, assault? Bible said that question created some confusion.

“There are several ways in which you can commit assault. But the reality is in the process of committing an assault, you might strangle somebody accidentally or on purpose,” Bible explained. “Typically, in a situation like this, a judge would say, we’ve provided you with the jury instructions, guide your decisions based on the instructions provided to you rather than seeking to move the scale one way or the other, after the fact.”

The second question was: Can an action or actions become unlawful at any point during an encounter? The judge wrote back claiming it is possible when the action is lawful.

“The reality is, yes, that is the simple answer to whether or not an action can go from lawful to unlawful,” Bible said. “An example is that somebody may lawfully enter a building or dwelling and then while in the building they decide that they’re going to steal or take something. That is the clearest example. So the answer is as clear as day is simply, yes.”

The civil settlement: $4M settlement deal reached in police death of Manuel Ellis

On another subject, Bible said he was sent a letter by the attorney of one of the defendants apologizing for an incident outside of the courtroom.

“I was walking out of the courtroom and I was walking over to say something pleasant to another attorney that I actually know when one of the officer’s attorneys looked straight at me his face got all red, and he said ‘Keep moving. boy,'” Bible said. “And in my realm, my understanding as a black man, when you call us ‘boy’ is synonymous with the n-word is synonymous with race hate is synonymous with disparate treatment based on race. So I did tell him never in your life, will you call me boy, and then he did it again?”

Bible said the attorney did apologize to him the next day and said he “had no excuse” for what he did. The attorney also sent a letter apologizing for the incident saying his conduct was “unprofessional.”

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

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Manuel Ellis family attorney: Evidence ‘suggests’ he was choked ‘on purpose’