TACOMA – The Pierce County Council on Tuesday approved a settlement that will pay $4 million to the family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed by police two years ago as he pleaded for breath.
The deal ends the county’s involvement in the case, though Ellis’ sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, and mother, Marcia Carter, continue to pursue their wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma, whose officers were more involved in Ellis’ detention – some of whom have been charged criminally.
“No monetary value will ever compensate for the loss or heartache Mr. Ellis’ family and loved ones experienced over the last two years. Nor will it stop the Ellis family or community from grieving his death,” the council said in a statement. “Council hopes our community will continue to heal, move forward stronger, and remain committed to making Pierce County a safe, just place for all.”
Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, just weeks before George Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing. Police stopped him while he was walking home from a convenience store with a box of doughnuts and a bottle of water.
The Pierce County medical examiner called Ellis’ death a homicide because of a lack of oxygen caused by restraint, with an enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication as contributing factors.
The death made Ellis’ name synonymous with pleas for justice at protests in the Pacific Northwest. His final words – “I can’t breathe, sir!” – were captured by a home security camera, as was the retort from one of the officers: “Shut the (expletive) up, man.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are white, with second-degree murder after witnesses reported that they attacked Ellis without provocation.
Officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian, faces a charge of first-degree manslaughter. He is accused of kneeling on Ellis’ back and shoulder as Ellis repeatedly told them he couldn’t breathe, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court.
The officers have pleaded not guilty.
Two Pierce County Sheriff deputies also responded to the scene, including Deputy Gary Sanders, who grabbed Ellis’ leg and assisted in restraining him while Tacoma police handcuffed and hogtied him. The family’s lawsuit faulted the deputies for not helping Ellis despite his distress.
The amount of the settlement includes $10,000 for Ellis’ mother to purchase a bench at his gravesite.
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