The three Tacoma Police Department officers charged in the death of Manuel Ellis are out of jail after posting bail Friday.
Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine all face a first-degree manslaughter charge, while Burbank and Collins also are charged with second-degree murder after Ellis died when they tried to arrest him more than a year ago.
Ellis, a Black man, died when police in Tacoma attempted to arrest him on March 3, 2020, for allegedly “trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles.” Ellis had to be restrained after a physical altercation with officers, according to police.
Part of the arrest was caught on video by a driver. And Ellis could be heard crying, “I can’t breathe,” on police dispatch audio.
The three officers pleaded not guilty during a remote appearance Friday, and bail was set at $100,000. Prosecutors had asked the judge for $1 million bail.
Pierce County Jail records show that the three men were released at the same time Friday afternoon.
This is the first time Washington’s attorney general has criminally charged officers for the unlawful use of deadly force, according to a statement from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
The Tacoma Police Union, in a statement, has called the prosecution “a politically motivated witch hunt” and the officers “fine public servants … sacrificed at the altar of public sentiment.”
“An unbiased jury will find that the officers broke no laws and, in fact, acted in accordance with the law, their training, and Tacoma Police Department policies,” the union said.
Court documents released Thursday said Ellis died during Burbank and Collins’ “felonious assault and/or unlawful imprisonment of Ellis.”
Burbank and Collins “tackled and struck Ellis multiple times, applied an LVNR (Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint) on Ellis, and shot him with a taser three times, all without justification,” according to the documents.
The two officers also “failed to render or call for urgent medical aid,” put Ellis in “hogtie restraints,” failed to alert other officers to the medical distress, and “failed to intervene when the officer put the spit hood on Ellis and then failed to remove the spit hood,” according to the documents.
Spit hoods are items that some corrections officers, police officers and paramedics could place on a detainee’s head in certain circumstances to make it harder for that person to spit at, or bite, those officers or others.
Rankine “recklessly caused Ellis’s death when, after hearing Ellis say he could not breathe” the officer continued to hold Ellis in the prone position and applied pressure to his back, court documents said.