Officer acquitted in 2020 death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma is hired by neighboring sheriff’s office

OLYMPIA, Washington. — One of three Tacoma police officers acquitted of criminal charges in the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis — a Black man who was shocked, beaten and held face down on a sidewalk as he begged for breath — has been hired by the a neighboring sheriff’s office.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, based in Olympia, Washington, announced on its Facebook page Monday that it had hired former Tacoma officer Christopher Burbank as a patrol deputy.

Burbank and two other officers — Timothy Rankine and Matthew Collins — were acquitted of criminal charges by a Pierce County jury last December. Rankine was charged with manslaughter, while Collins and Burbank were charged with manslaughter and manslaughter.

Their attorneys argued that Ellis died from a fatal dose of methamphetamine and heart disease, and not from the officers’ actions. The Pierce County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide, saying it was caused by a lack of oxygen during physical restraint.

Ellis, 33, was walking home with donuts from a 7-Eleven in Tacoma, about 30 miles south of Seattle, on March 3, 2020, when he, Collins and Burbank, passed a patrol car stopped at a red light. inside.

The officers claimed they saw Ellis try to open the door of a passing car at the intersection and that he became aggressive when they tried to question him about it. Collins testified that Ellis demonstrated “superhuman strength” by lifting Collins off the ground and throwing him through the air.

But three witnesses stated that they had seen no such thing. After what appeared to be a brief conversation between Ellis and the officers — both of whom are white — Burbank, in the passenger seat, threw open his door and knocked Ellis down, they said. Rankine, who arrived after Ellis had already been handcuffed face down, knelt on his upper back.

The witnesses — one of whom shouted for the officers to stop assaulting Ellis — and a doorbell surveillance camera captured video of parts of the encounter. The video showed Ellis with his hands up in a surrender position as Burbank fired a Taser into his chest and Collins wrapped an arm around his neck from behind.

His death came nearly three months before the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police would spark an international outcry against police brutality.

The Tacoma Police Department found that the officers did not violate the use-of-force policy as established at the time – and subsequently updated – and that the three officers were each paid $500,000 to resign.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle has said it is investigating the matter; The Justice Department may pursue charges for federal civil rights violations, but the scope of the investigation has not been disclosed.

The Ellis family settled a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Pierce County, home to Tacoma, for $4 million last year.

The lawsuit was the first under a five-year-old state law intended to make it easier to prosecute police accused of unlawful use of deadly force.