Tacoma officers Armando Farinas and Masiyh Ford have been exonerated in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who uttered “I can’t breathe” during his fatal arrest in March 2020. The Tacoma Police Department announced, according to NBC News, that the two officers will return to work after an investigation found the officers actions “reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances and not in violation of department policy.”
Officers approached Ellis on March 3, 2020 accusing him of harassing motorists. While officers claim Ellis was the aggressor, camera footage caught officers repeatedly tasing, beating and restraining Ellis while he said “I can’t breathe, sir.” Officer Farinas placed a spit hood on Ellis and Ford held down Ellis’ legs during the restraint.
Ellis’ death was ruled a homicide caused by respiratory arrest resulting from hypoxia due to physical restraint. Ellis’ family filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against the city of Tacoma, Pierce County, and officers from the Tacoma Police Department and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in September.
Officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins were charged with second-degree murder and Timothy Rankine was charged with first degree manslaughter for their role in the brutal beating. All three pleaded not guilty. According to CNN, interim Police Chief Mike Ake exonerated Farinas and Ford after a review of the department’s internal affairs investigation and they will not face criminal charges.
In a statement, the Tacoma Police Department said its interim chief Mike Ake had notified officers Armando Farinas and Masiyh Ford that they had been “exonerated of any policy violations related to their involvement in the Manuel Ellis case” following an internal probe.
Farinas had been investigated for his “application of a spit hood” on Ellis. The department said his actions were found to be “reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances” given that at the time of application, officers had been concerned about a “possible biohazard exposure due to Mr. Ellis spitting near officers.”
Ford was investigated for use of force, with the department saying that the officer was found to have taken hold of Ellis’s legs to allow him to be detained in a restraint. The department said that after Ellis was detained, Ford tried to calm him down and assisted in rolling him onto his side when he warned he could not breathe.
The department said Ford also was the first officer to alert medical personnel arriving on the scene that Ellis’s condition was deteriorating as it declared his actions also reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.
“Their exoneration of any misconduct reaffirms that they followed their training and the Tacoma Police Department’s policies and expectations,” the police union Farinas and Ford belong to said in a statement. The union also said they are pleased to welcome the officers back to active duty.
Both officers will return to patrol duties after they undergo several weeks of training. Ellis’ family and their attorney disapprove of the officers’ exonerations.
“We can’t pretend that Manny was not in an absolutely vulnerable space where he couldn’t move or do anything else at the time that Farinas put his spit mask over Manuel Ellis’s head,” Ellis’ family attorney James Bible said, according to NBC.
“No one has any idea how it feels to cry every single day for nine months straight, to relive what happened to your best friend, to my little brother, to a son,” Ellis’ brother Matthew Ellis said, according to KING 5, NBC reports. “Just to see exactly what they used to put over his head is just is heartbreaking. He deserved better than that.”