The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington is launching its own investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis— an unarmed Black man who died in the custody of Tacoma Police Department officers in 2020.
Last month, a jury cleared three Tacoma officers of all criminal charges related to 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, and the jury found the three not guilty on all counts.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is now independently reviewing the evidence collected by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, which prosecuted the case.
“If that review reveals violations of federal criminal statutes, the Justice Department will take appropriate action,” Emily Langlie, spokesperson for acting U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Tessa Gorman, said in a statement.
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What happened on March 3, 2020
Ellis was walking home with doughnuts from a 7-Eleven in Tacoma, late on March 3, 2020, when he passed a patrol car stopped at a red light, with Collins and Burbank inside.
The officers claimed they saw Ellis try to open the door of a passing car at the intersection and he became aggressive when they tried to question him about it. Collins testified that Ellis demonstrated “superhuman strength” by lifting him off the ground and throwing him through the air.
But three witnesses who testified said they