On March 3, 33-year-old Manuel Ellis died while being restrained by Tacoma police. After new video was released providing a clear look at the circumstances surrounding Ellis’ death, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has called for an independent investigation.
“I have become convinced that the Pierce County Sheriff should not complete the investigation of the death of Manuel Ellis and the county prosecutor should not review the investigation and make charging decisions,” Inslee said in a news release, according to KIRO-7. Inslee made this decision after learning that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the agency previously investigating the case, had officers on the scene when Ellis died.
On June 3, cellphone video taken by Sara McDowell was released that depicted Ellis being beaten and restrained by police. On June 9, a nine-minute video recorded on a nearby Ring camera was released in which Ellis could be heard saying “I can’t breathe, sir.”
“A clear sign that it’s not only a struggle for breath but an attempt to still be respectful in your last moments of life. A sign that he wasn’t the aggressive person law enforcement claimed he was,” family attorney James Bible said after seeing the video.
Bible has been critical of the way the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has handled the investigation into the Tacoma Police Department. “We can’t let offending agencies and their friends investigate each other. There must be justice,” Bible said.
Ellis’ death was ruled a homicide by hypoxia due to physical restraint, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office. Hypoxia is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues.
The autopsy findings indicate Ellis had a dangerous amount of methamphetamine in his system and heart disease, but more significant factors were likely restraint, body positioning and a spit mask placed over Ellis’ mouth.
Inslee has yet to decide who will be in charge of the new investigation. “At this point we are working to determine who will conduct the independent investigation and who will make charging decisions. That said, the state will ensure an independent investigation and independent prosecutorial review into the death of Manuel Ellis. We will ensure the work is done free of conflicts of interest,” Inslee said.