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Murder? Tacoma black man dies in custody saying ‘I can’t breathe’ while in handcuffs

Manuel Ellis Tacoma
Pictured, Manuel Ellis Tacoma, Washington state black man death ruled a homicide.
Manuel Ellis Tacoma
Pictured, Manuel Ellis Tacoma, Washington state black man death ruled a homicide.

Manuel Ellis death ruled a homicide according to medical report: Investigation launched as a black man was heard screaming ‘I can’t breathe’ while being handcuffed by Tacoma, Washington police. 

And it continues.

The death of a ‘black man’ while in the custody of police in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year has been ruled a homicide ‘due to physical restraint,’ according to a county medical examiner autopsy report made public on Wednesday. 

Manuel Ellis, 33, died March 3 after police saw him trying to get into vehicles that had people in them, according to a news release from the city’s police department. When officers approached Ellis, a physical altercation ensued with Ellis physically restrained after becoming combative, police said.

The officers called for medical help when they saw he needed help, but Ellis died. Leading up to his death, the ‘detained’ man had been heard saying, ‘I can’t breathe,‘ in a case eerily similar to that of a Minneapolis African American man who last week pleaded with police to recant, only to soon die after he too was heard saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ 

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.

Ellis was the father of two children and a musician. He had also struggled with addiction and mental health issues, his family notes on a GoFundMe page.

Ellis’ cause of death was initially listed as pending while medical examiners awaited toxicology tests. 

The death certificate also lists contributing factors of methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly known as an enlarged heart, the office said.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is now conducting an independent investigation, to determine whether the killing was justified. To date, prosecutors have not pursued charges against the officers involved as the sheriff’s department had maintained the detained man dying of an overdose.

‘We pause amidst our struggle with the current public health and economic crisis, as well as the flood of emotions stirred up by the tragic and unacceptable death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and reflect on the grief and sadness of Manuel Ellis’ family and loved ones,’ Tacoma mayor Victoria Woodards said. ‘We pause and share their grief, because every loss of life matters.’

She added that she knows that the city wants answers and justice.

‘And so do we,’ she said.

The announcement comes amid nation wide protests following the much publicized  death of Minneapolis man, George Floyd as video showed Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the ‘detained’ men’s neck for a full 8 minutes. 

Chauvin now faces 2nd degree murder and 3rd degree manslaughter charges, while three other officers who were observed doing nothing to stop their colleague have also now been charged with abetting Floyd’s murder.

In the case involving Ellis, two of the four officers ‘detaining’ the ‘black man’ were white, another African American and the fourth officer, Asian, according to police.

Those officers were placed on administrative leave immediately after the incident, with the department ruling at the time there were no departmental violations. They had been on full duty until Wednesday when they went on leave again following the release of the county examiner’s medical report. 

‘I’m telling you guys, right now, my brother was a good man,’ Ellis’ sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, said, according to KUOW. ‘A loving man. He loved me. He was crazy about me, he was crazy about his kids, crazy about his nieces and nephews. He helped me with my kids. Anytime I needed him, he was always there for me.’

Gov. Jay Inslee said the case is a priority for him and the mayor.

‘We will be pushing to make sure there is a full and complete investigation,’ Inslee said at news conference Wednesday.