Jury selection is set to begin on Monday in the trial of three Tacoma police officers charged in the death of Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man. Ellis died in March 2020 after being assaulted, held face-down on a sidewalk, and shocked with a Taser by the officers. Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins are charged with second-degree murder, while Timothy Rankine faces a first-degree manslaughter charge. All three officers have pleaded not guilty.
According to witnesses, Ellis was tackled, punched, and shocked with a Taser by the officers without resisting. Several witnesses recorded the encounter on their cell phones, urging the officers to stop. One video shows Burbank lifting Ellis into the air and slamming him onto the pavement, striking him with his fist. Collins is seen striking Ellis’s head multiple times while Burbank draws his Taser gun. Collins then wraps his arm around Ellis’s neck, causing him to fall limp to the ground.
Ellis was pronounced dead at the scene, and the Pierce County Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be “hypoxia” due to physical restraint. Lawyers for the officers claimed Ellis was resisting and blamed his death on methamphetamine use and heart problems.
The trial is expected to run four days each week until December. This case marks the first time the Washington Attorney General’s Office has charged a law enforcement officer with murder. The trial of Auburn Officer Jeffrey Nelson, charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in a separate case, is still pending.
In 2022, Ellis’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and officers, resulting in a $4 million settlement agreement approved by the Pierce County Council. However, Ellis’s sister and mother continue to pursue their legal action.