Three Tacoma police officers cleared of all charges in 2020 death of Manuel Ellis.
Three police officers in the US state of Washington have been found not guilty of all charges in the 2020 killing of a Black man whose death drew comparisons with the murder of George Floyd.
Christopher Burbank, 38, and Matthew Collins, 40, were found not guilty of murder and manslaughter, while Timothy Rankine, 34, was acquitted of manslaughter following a 10-week trial.
Manuel Ellis, 33, died while in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, on March 3, 2020.
Footage presented at trial showed the officers putting Ellis, who was unarmed, in a chokehold, shooting him with a stun gun and pinning him to the street with their body weight.
In video of the encounter, Ellis can be heard pleading with the officers, telling them, “Can’t breathe, sir, can’t breathe.”
The police officers’ lawyers argued that Ellis died from a lethal dose of methamphetamine combined with an existing heart condition and that he had kicked the door of their police car.
Prosecution witnesses told the jury that the officers had been the aggressors, making an unprovoked effort to subdue Ellis that began while he was standing on the footpath.
Matthew Ericksen, a lawyer representing the Ellis family, said the defence had been allowed to essentially put Ellis on trial.
“The defence 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,” Ericksen said.
The Seattle Times quoted Collins’ lawyer, Casey Arbenz, as saying the verdict was “a huge sigh of relief” and reflected that the jurors were willing to look beyond the video.
The officers “should never have been charged,” Arbenz said.
City officials said the Tacoma Police Department was nearing the end of its internal investigation into the officers’ conduct, which could result in them being disciplined.
Ellis’s death came nearly three months before the murder of George Floyd, which set off protests calling for police accountability and racial justice across the United States and around the world.