MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Officers acquitted in Manny Ellis death leave Tacoma PD

Jan 16, 2024, 3:18 PM | Updated: 5:37 pm

Photo: Manny Ellis trial....

From left, Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine, all former police officers with Tacoma PD, sit in court. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Three officers acquitted last month in the death of Manny Ellis are now resigning from the Tacoma police department.

“Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, and Timothy Rankine have voluntarily agreed to separate from their positions,” Police Chief Avery Moore said in a statement Tuesday.

He said, after an internal investigation, all three officers were cleared of any violations under the department policies that were in place in 2020 — aside from a minor violation by Officer Matthew Collins for using profanity during their encounter with Ellis.

More on Manny Ellis: US Attorney’s Office to launch its own probe in the death of Manny Ellis

However, Chief Moore went on to say that the “Use of Force” policy that existed in 2020 “failed to serve the best interests of the police department or the community” and has since undergone significant changes. “Additionally, the Tacoma Police Department is actively undergoing a comprehensive overhaul of its policies,” he added.

Shortly after Ellis died in March 2020, the officers were internally cleared and back on active duty, until public outcry pushed the department to place them on paid administrative leave — which has continued for nearly four years.

Each of the officers will receive a $500,000 settlement as part of their separation agreement, an attorney for one of the officers confirmed to KIRO Newsradio.

The department’s announcement comes just weeks after a jury cleared all three officers of criminal wrongdoing in Ellis’ death. Two of the officers — Matthew Collins, 40, and Christopher Burbank, 38 — had been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while Timothy Rankine, 34, was charged with manslaughter. Ellis was shocked, beaten and restrained face-down on a sidewalk as he pleaded for breath.

The officers’ attorneys argued that Ellis died from a lethal amount of methamphetamine that was in his system as well as a preexisting heart condition, not from the officers’ actions.

“This was really a civil case, from my perspective and my experience, not a criminal case,” Attorney Jared Ausserer, representing Officer Collins, told KIRO Newsradio shortly after the trial ended. “That’s what I tried to explain to the jury during closing is — the (state prosecutors) argued because he can’t breathe, it somehow makes it criminal. It doesn’t. At most, it makes it civil. And I think that the jury agreed with that.”

Defense Attorney Anne Bremner, who represented Officer Rankine, stated she was not surprised by the trial verdict or the results of the Tacoma Police Department investigation. She also said the resignations were expected.

“These officers went through three years of this, and they were finally exonerated, but then to go back into the same community? It made more sense for them, at least now, to separate and look at options of where they want to go next,” Bremner said.

She said her client is exploring options for his future.

“We’ve heard that Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer would offer them jobs down there, readily,” Bremner added. “He said that.”

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department conducted the initial investigation into Ellis’s death before disclosing three months in that a Pierce County deputy was present during Ellis’s arrest. As a result of that conflict of interest, in mid-June 2020, Governor Jay Inslee ordered a new investigation by the Washington State Patrol, which resulted in criminal charges filed against the officers by the Washington State Attorney General’s office in 2021. After a more than two-year delay, the trial began last October and ended with “not guilty” verdicts just before Christmas. Notably, it marked the biggest single prosecution of officers in Washington for an on-duty death since the 1930s, and the first test of new state powers to hold law enforcement criminally accountable.

While cleared of the charges brought by the state, a federal probe has now been opened into Ellis’ death and the officers’ actions. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is independently reviewing the evidence collected by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

“If that review reveals violations of federal criminal statutes, the Justice Department will take appropriate action,” Emily Langlie, spokesperson for U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Tessa Gorman, said in a statement.

In the meantime, Tacoma city leaders said they are focused on rebuilding trust within the community. In response to the announcement, Tacoma City Manager Elizabeth Pauli expressed support for the agreement that separated the officers from city service — calling it a “responsible, constructive path forward.”

More from Kate Stone: Initiative to repeal police pursuit restrictions certified, ballot likely next

“With faith in our city’s enduring resilience and strength, I acknowledge that healing throughout Tacoma will require time, open dialogue and shared respect,” Pauli said.

Chief Moore echoed that sentiment.

“I acknowledge the detrimental impact of policing on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, extending both a personal and collective apology,” Moore wrote in his statement Tuesday. “I recognize the atrocities spanning the last 30 years up to the present. I am committed to acknowledging and taking responsibility, adamantly refusing to condone or turn a blind eye to such heinous acts.”

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here

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