Two Washington police officers are officially charged with murder and one officer faces manslaughter charges following the Washington state attorney general announcement on Thursday.
According to reports, all three of the officers were involved in the arrest of Manuel Ellis, a black who died after telling the officers he couldn’t breathe as he was being restrained.
Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins are now charged with second-degree murder, while the third officer Timothy Rankine faces manslaughter charge.
As witnesses reported, Collins and Burbank both white, attacked the victim without provocation, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court. The third officer, who is Asian, faces manslaughter charge for putting pressure on the victim’s back as the man said he couldn’t breathe.
This is first time in history the Washington State Attorney General’s office has criminally charged police officers with unlawful use of deadly force.
Tacoma Police Union backed up the officers during the whole period claiming that “facts were ignored in favor of what appears to be a politically motivated witch hunt.”
“We look forward to trial,” the union said in a statement Thursday. “An unbiased jury will find that the officers broke no laws and, in fact, acted in accordance with the law, their training, and Tacoma Police Department policies. An unbiased jury will not allow these fine public servants to be sacrificed at the altar of public sentiment.”
The incident occurred just weeks before George Floyd’s death under the knee of a white Minneapolis police, on March 3rd 2020. Ellis’ family members said that night he went out to get a late-night snack from the nearby 7-Eleven. But he never made it back home. Ellis was father of two.
While walking home, Ellis crossed by Burbank and Collins, who were sitting in their patrol vehicle. Both officers claimed they were stopped at a red light when Ellis suddenly punched the passenger side window of their car and began attacking them when they got out to confront him, according to the probable cause statement.
But officers’ statements are not in correlation with the statements by three civilian witnesses, which they say are corroborated by video evidence.
His final words — “I can’t breathe, sir!” — were captured by a home security camera. “Ellis was not fighting back,” the probable cause statement said. “All three civilian witnesses at the intersection … state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.”
Officers asked Ellies to stop, but he continued walking. An officer in the passenger side of a patrol car slammed his door into Ellis, knocking him down, and then jumped on him and started beating him, witnesses said. Everyone in the police denied the fact that a knee was placed on Ellis back, but the video taken shows the opposite.
The third officer, Timothy Rankine, was one of the backup officers. For unknown reason Rankine pushed Ellis’ back very hard that he was almost in sitting position. Ellis at that point was already handcuffed and then he started shouting “I can’t breathe,” and pleading with them: “Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe, sir,”
The victim stopped breathing and it took seven to nine minutes for paramedics too arrive. Despite the paramedics’ effort, it was already late and Ellis was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officers involved in the case face life time in prison.