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Jury Acquits Three WA Officers In Death of Black Man

A jury cleared three Washington state police officers of criminal charges Thursday in the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who was shocked, beaten and restrained face-down on a Tacoma sidewalk as he pleaded for breath. Two of the officers — Matthew Collins, 40, and Christopher Burbank, 38 — had been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while Timothy Rankine, 34, was charged with manslaughter, the Associated Press reports. Their attorneys argued that Ellis died from a lethal amount of methamphetamine that was in his system and a preexisting heart condition, not from the officers' actions. Matthew Ericksen, a lawyer for the Ellis family, said it was hard to convey how devastating the verdict was for the family and community. “The biggest reason why I personally think this jury found reasonable doubt is because the defense was essentially allowed to put Manny Ellis on trial,” Ericksen said. “The defense attorneys were allowed to dredge up Manny’s past and repeat to the jury again and again Manny’s prior arrests in 2015 and 2019. That unfairly prejudiced jurors against Manny.”

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability said “the not guilty verdict is further proof the system is broken, failing the very people it should be serving.” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee credited the attorney general for pursuing the case after the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office botched the initial investigation by failing to disclose that one of its deputies had been involved in restraining Ellis. That controversy helped prompt lawmakers to create a new independent office to investigate police use of force. “This case began when the Ellis family experienced a profound loss that was not properly investigated,” Inslee said. “A full airing of the evidence was important for all sides in this tragedy and that’s what happened here.” The City of Tacoma said the verdicts will not affect an internal police department investigation. Once its findings are approved by Chief Avery Moore, he’ll make decisions about possible discipline, “up to and including termination.”


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