Not Guilty: Officers Acquitted in 2020 Tacoma Custodial Death Case of Manuel Ellis

In Tacoma, Washington, three police officers were acquitted in the 2020 case involving the death of Manuel “Manny” Ellis. Christopher Burbank, 38, and Matthew Collins, 40, were found not guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. Timothy Rankine, 34, was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter. The officers faced a potential life sentence if convicted.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson expressed gratitude to the jury and court staff for their service and acknowledged the Ellis family’s grief. The jury faced challenges during deliberations, including a juror’s unavailability due to a family concern and a positive COVID-19 test for another juror, necessitating the inclusion of alternate jurors.

Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old unarmed Black man, died following an altercation with the officers. Prosecutors presented video evidence of the encounter, where Ellis was heard stating difficulty in breathing. Special prosecutor Patricia Eakes emphasized the human dignity Ellis deserved.

The defense argued the legality of the officers’ actions, presenting Ellis’ drug addiction and mental health history. The county medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide due to physical restraint but also noted methamphetamine in his system. However, drug intoxication was not deemed the primary cause of death.

Defense attorney Jared Ausserer, representing Collins, acknowledged Ellis’ positive personal qualities but pointed to his altered behavior under the influence of methamphetamine. Wayne Fricke, Burbank’s attorney, argued that Ellis’ actions led to his own death, citing the effects of methamphetamine.

Rankine’s attorney, Mark Conrad, stated that Rankine, who had been an officer for 14 months at the time, followed the orders of his superiors without having received specific training on the use of hobbles.

The Tacoma Police Union, through president Henry Betts, expressed continued support for the officers, describing the charges as politically motivated.

The acquittal concludes a high-profile case that centered on issues of police conduct and accountability in the death of Manuel Ellis.

Chris Morris
Author: Chris Morris

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