KEY POINTS

  • Manuel Ellis, a black man in Tacoma, Washington died March 3 while allegedly in police custody
  • The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined that it was a homicide
  • Ellis told officers “I can’t breathe” before dying of asphyxiation

As protests rage in the United States over the death in custody of George Floyd and other people of color, the March 3 death of another black man in Tacoma, Washington has been ruled a homicide by the county medical examiner.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Manuel Ellis, who died in March while in the custody of Tacoma police, was due to respiratory arrest ultimately caused by physical restraint. The report also indicated that Ellis had an enlarged heart and was intoxicated at the time of his arrest.

Ellis was reported to have been suffering from unspecified mental health issues but was active in a church called Last Day Ministries. He played the drums for the church before he died.

The News Tribune notes that there are similarities between the deaths of Ellis and Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis was allegedly after being pinned to the ground by the neck with a white police officer’s knee has sparked nationwide protests.

Both were black men who died after lapsing into unconsciousness due to a lack of oxygen while being restrained by police officers.

Both also reportedly said “I can’t breathe” to arresting officers. Floyd’s struggles were caught on video while there is police radio recording of Ellis’ encounter with the police.

Police said Ellis repeatedly struck a Tacoma patrol car on March 3. Officers called for backup before getting out of the car.

Ellis reportedly attacked officers and struggled for several minutes before he was put in restraints. He reportedly stopped breathing and lost consciousness within a minute of paramedics arriving on the scene. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Medical Examiner’s determination of homicide legally meant that Ellis was killed by another person. The investigation into the incident is currently ongoing.

Tacoma police have identified the four officers involved in the arrest of Ellis. They are Christopher Burbank (34), Matthew Collins (37), Masyih Ford (28) and Timothy Rankine (31). All four have since returned to active duty after being placed on administrative leave.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell told The News Tribune that he has sent condolences to the family and was awaiting a final report on Ellis’ death.

“The safety of our community and everyone we serve is our foremost concern, and we regret that an individual lost his life under these unfortunate circumstances,” Ramsdell said.

Protesters in Tacoma have been protesting police brutality and racial inequality for several days, demanding justice for Ellis, Floyd and others who have allegedly died in custody.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee said he and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodwards will push for a “full and complete investigation” into Ellis’ death.