Captured on video footage beating an innocent man to death, two Tacoma police officers were charged Thursday with second degree murder while a third officer faces first degree manslaughter. Although the officers falsely reported that the victim was seen attempting to break into a parked car before attacking the officers, the videos and witnesses contradict the officers’ statements.
Around 11:21 p.m. on March 3, 2020, Manuel Ellis was walking home after purchasing water and donuts at a local 7-Eleven when Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins began speaking with him from their patrol car. Ellis, who reportedly suffered from schizophrenia and addiction, had been staying in sober housing during recent months and doing well.
According to statements made by Officers Burbank and Collins, they witnessed Ellis trying to break into a parked car before punching the front passenger side window of their patrol vehicle and physically assaulting them. But according to several witnesses, cellphone video, Taser data, and a Vivint “Doorbell” camera, Ellis did not attempt to break into any parked cars and briefly spoke with the officers for a few seconds before calmly turning to walk away.
Instead of assaulting the officers or punching their car window, Ellis took a step away from the patrol car when the passenger door suddenly swung open and hit him from behind, knocking him to his knees. Officer Burbank emerged from the passenger side of the vehicle and instantly tackled Ellis to the ground as Collins ran around the front of the patrol car.
Recorded on cellphone video, Burbank and Collins repeatedly punched Ellis, who does not appear to defend himself or fight back. A female witness who recorded the video shouted at the cops, “Hey! Stop! Oh my god, stop hitting him! Stop hitting him! Just arrest him!”
As Collins applied a chokehold to him, Ellis turned to Burbank with his empty hands in the air to surrender. With Collins pulling back on Ellis’ neck, Burbank fired his Taser into Ellis’ chest.
“Hey, ya’ll in the wrong right now,” a male witness could be heard telling the officers.
After Burbank shot Ellis with his Taser again, Ellis was recorded on a Vivint “Doorbell” camera telling the officers that he couldn’t breathe. One of the officers was recorded on video telling Ellis, “Shut the fuck up, man.”
Arriving on the scene at 11:24 p.m., Officer Timothy Rankine drove his right knee down on the top of Ellis’ spine, just below the base of his neck, despite the fact that Rankine was aware that Ellis had already been handcuffed and lying in a prone position on his stomach. When Ellis told Rankine that he could not breathe, Rankine responded, “If you’re talking to me, you can breathe just fine.”
After the officers hogtied Ellis, they placed a spit hood over his head even though he clearly appeared to be in medical distress. They failed to give him any medical attention until the fire department arrived several minutes later to declare him dead at the scene.
Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark determined Ellis’s death to be a homicide caused by hypoxia due to physical restraint. On Thursday, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced second degree murder charges against Burbank and Collins, while Rankine faces one count of first degree manslaughter for their roles in the death of Manuel Ellis.
If convicted, the standard sentencing range for second degree murder with no prior criminal history is 10 to 18 years in prison. The standard range for first degree manslaughter with no prior criminal history is 6.5 to 8.5 years. The maximum sentence for both offenses is life in prison.