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Mixed Verdicts Mark Outcomes Of Major Police Brutality Cases

A few days before Christmas, a jury in Tacoma, Wa., cleared three police officers of criminal charges in the death of Manuel “Manny” Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2020 after pleading that he could not breathe. The next day, a jury in Colorado convicted two paramedics of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2019 after officers subdued him and medics injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. In the three years since the murder of George Floyd, whose death in police custody ignited a national movement against police brutality, prosecutors have charged police and emergency medical workers in a number of high-profile cases. The result has been a mixed bag of verdicts: convictions, acquittals and a mistrial. Civil rights activists and legal experts say the different outcomes reflect a country still struggling with how to view cases of police use of lethal force, and shifting public sentiment on law enforcement and safety, reports the New York Times.


“Police accountability is still up for debate. Even with actual evidence, even with body cam footage, we’re still in a place where we cannot be certain that an officer’s conviction for wrongdoing will take place through our judicial system,” said Charles Coleman Jr., a civil rights lawyer, former Brooklyn prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst. The deaths of Floyd, McClain, Ellis and Breonna Taylor — all killed in fatal police encounters within a nine-month span — came to occupy a central place in the racial justice movement and in some cases inspired reforms in the cities where they were killed. In total, 16 police officers and paramedics faced state and federal charges in the four cases, with eight convictions so far, including a former police detective who pleaded guilty to federal charges in Taylor’s case. Convictions are only one piece of the justice system, reform activists pointed out. “The algorithm of justice are charges, arrest, conviction and sentencing,” said MiDian Holmes, a community activist in Aurora, Colo., after the paramedics’ conviction in McClain’s death. he is thankful for the three convictions in the case, but “we do not know justice until we see sentencing.”

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