The family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed by police last March, 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.
According to the Seattle Times, the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Friday by the family’s attorneys on behalf of Ellis’ sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, and their mother, Marcia Carter. The suit names Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine, the three officers who were charged in Ellis’ death this past May, along with several other officers and deputies who were not criminally charged but also present during the deadly arrest.
Here’s what the suit says, according to the Times:
Ellis was merely walking home with doughnuts and a bottle of water when two officers targeted him because he is Black, the complaint alleges. “He was deemed suspicious by the officers and they beat, tased, choked, and hogtied him as a result of their false perceptions of Manuel Ellis that are irretrievably linked to his race.”
The civil complaint includes a photo of a spit hood like the one used on Ellis that bears the warning, “DO NOT USE on anyone that is … having difficulty breathing.” By the time it was placed on Ellis, he’d gasped to officers that he couldn’t breathe at least four times, according to Washington State Patrol investigative records obtained by The Seattle Times.
The suit claims that Tacoma police rarely face internal consequences for misconduct like excessive force and calls the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department investigation into Ellis’ arrest a “sham,” according to the Times.
It also alleges that statements issued to the public by Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer early in the investigation were untrue. The Times notes that Troyer is not named in the suit, but the complaint says that his statements about Ellis not being choked or shocked with a stun gun were false and made in an attempt to cover up what happened.
Last June, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called for an independent investigation into Ellis’ death after he learned that the sheriff’s office, which was conducting the initial investigation, had officers on the scene during the arrest. Videos released in the months following Ellis’ death revealed contradictions between eyewitness reports and police accounts.
Ellis was caught on video telling the officers, “I can’t breathe, sir” before he died. He was struggling with addiction and at the time of his death, he had methamphetamine in his system. The Root reported that his death was ruled a homicide by the Pierce County Medical Examiner, caused by respiratory arrest resulting from hypoxia due to physical restraint.
According to CBS News, the family said it was seeking “immense” damages but did not specify any amount in the suit. CBS notes the family previously suggested that they are seeking $30 million.
“We will not let Manny be forgotten,” attorney Matthew A. Ericksen Sr. said in an email, according to CBS. “We are 100% committed to holding people accountable for his killing and doing our best to effect change in Tacoma and the nation.”
So far Pierce County adopted a new tax to boost mental healthcare and local lawmakers have passed police reforms in Ellis’ honor, according to the Times.