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Trial of Tacoma officers charged with Manny Ellis' death postponed until after Thanksgiving

Published November 13, 2023 at 9:32 AM PST
Defense attorney Jared Ausserer, center, speaks with Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank, left, and Matthew Collins, right in Pierce County Superior Court Thursday Nov. 16, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis.
Karen Ducey
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
Defense attorney Jared Ausserer, center, speaks with Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank, left, and Matthew Collins, right in Pierce County Superior Court Thursday Nov. 16, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis.

What You Need To Know

🚔 Tacoma police officers Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine face felony charges in the death of Manuel "Manny" Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man who died in police custody on March 3, 2020. All three pleaded not guilty and are on paid leave.

🏛 The trial began Sept. 18. Prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office rested their case on Nov. 8. Over nearly six weeks the prosecution called about two dozen witnesses, including four doctors and a police use of force expert.

🎧 The Walk Homea national award-winning podcast from KNKX and The Seattle Times, goes deeper into the life and death of Manny Ellis and what led to this trial.

🗒 KNKX reporters Mayowa Aina and Jared Brown are covering the trial. Questions or comments about the trial? Contact us at outreach@knkx.org

Continue following KNKX's coverage of the trial

Posted November 27, 2023 at 9:03 AM PST

We're closing this blog but still covering the trial.

Find the latest updates on the trial of Tacoma officers charged with killing Manuel Ellis at knkx.org/tpdtrial.

Thank you for following KNKX! Support independent, local news coverage like this by donating or exploring other ways to give.

Trial postponed due to second juror with COVID-19

Posted November 17, 2023 at 3:35 PM PST

The trial of the three Tacoma police officers charged with killing Manny Ellis has been postponed due to a second juror testing positive for COVID-19.

One juror was already excused from the trial this week after contracting the virus and was replaced by an alternate. Three alternate jurors remain.

The trial will resume after Thanksgiving with the officers’ attorneys questioning a use-of-force expert on the stand Renton police Sergeant Chris Nielsen.

Attorneys for the officers are expected to call several more witnesses including their clients, Officers Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine.

The News Tribune

Defense use-of-force expert says officers actions were 'reasonable'

Posted November 16, 2023 at 5:46 PM PST

A Renton police training sergeant testified Thursday that three Tacoma police officers on trial for the death of Manuel Ellis did not use an inappropriate level of force in their encounter with Ellis.

Chris Nielsen has worked as a law enforcement officer for nearly 13 years, and he previously worked as an attorney for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He was retained as a use of force expert by defense attorneys to offer his opinion on whether the actions of officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine were appropriate.

Nielsen didn’t have time to discuss the specific actions of each officer before court broke for the day. He said there were several different progressions of force, and broadly, they were reasonable.

Under direct examination by an attorney for Burbank, Wayne Fricke, Nielsen was asked about how police officers decide how much force to use in their jobs. Nielsen said a common concept is “Graham factors” which stem from the U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor.

Nielsen said use of force decisions are typically related to whether to use force at all, the type of force to use and how much force to use. He said to make those decisions, police officers have to consider the Graham factors: the severity of the crime at hand, safety to the public and the officers and whether the suspect has tried to flee.

“So there’s a balance between those three things that guide both the initial decision to use force period, and then once force is used, how,” Nielsen said.

The police sergeant also said that by nature, use-of-force events involve police using a disproportionate level of force on the subject. He said that’s because officers have to overcome whatever resistance they’re faced with.

Earlier in the afternoon, prosecutors completed their cross examination of Dr. Jennifer Stankus, a medical expert for the defense. In the morning, Stankus testified it was her opinion that Ellis died of heart failure caused by a lethal dose of methamphetamine, not of oxygen deprivation as a result of physical restraint.

Assistant attorney general Kent Liu questioned an opinion that Stankus included in her report to the defense: That Ellis would have died on the night of the incident regardless of whether he’d encountered law enforcement officers.

“Is it your medical opinion that even if Mr. Ellis had never encountered law enforcement that night, that if he was home watching TV, he would have died that night?” Liu asked.

“A person who takes methamphetamine, a toxic level of methamphetamine, I’ve never seen that person just chilling, watching TV,” Stankus replied.

Asked what basis she had to provide that opinion, Stankus said her review of Ellis’ medical records and prior encounters with police showed that when he took meth, his hallucinations and agitations worsened, and it caused him social and legal problems. The doctor referred to Ellis’ 2019 arrest following an alleged attempted robbery at a fast food restaurant that Ellis later said was the result of a meth-induced psychosis.

“Given that and given the severity of this heart rhythm, which again I’ve never seen a flutter with that much variability,” Stankus said. “Given the fact that he’s diaphoretic on a 41-degree night, it was my opinion on a more probable basis than not that, yeah, he was in trouble. He was in trouble medically from the outset.”

Liu asked if she’d read the accounts of others who saw Ellis the night he died before he encountered officers. Stankus couldn’t recall their statements. Cedric Armstrong, who operates the sober-living home where Ellis was staying at the time of his death, testified earlier in the trial that he saw Ellis at 10 p.m., less than an hour before he encountered police, and Ellis didn’t appear to be under the influence of drugs.

Stankus said she read the officers’ accounts of what happened, and she said they would be the only ones in contact with him who could see that he was sweating profusely. She said she’d also read the accounts of eyewitnesses — who said police instigated the interaction — but that this incident was consistent with someone on a toxic dose of meth and consistent with Elli’s prior law enforcement contacts.

Liu said Stankus was giving credit to the officers she wasn’t giving to civilian eyewitnesses, and he was met with objections from the defense.

Earlier in his cross-examination, Liu brought up an pre-trial interview with the Washington State Attorney General's Office in which Stankus was asked if she was pro law enforcement. Stankus said she was because she believes there has to be law and order, but that she believes in the fair enforcement of laws and appropriate treatment of defendants.

Nielsen, the defense’s use-of-force expert, will continue testifying when court proceedings resume Monday.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The News Tribune. Updated 11/17/23 to correct the name of the U.S. Supreme Court case the "Graham factors" stem from.

The News Tribune

ER doctor testifies Ellis’ death was related to his heart, not his respiratory system

Posted November 16, 2023 at 1:29 PM PST
Dr. Jennifer Stankus speaks about atrial flutter in Pierce County Superior Court Thursday Nov. 16, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Police officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis.
Karen Ducey
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
Dr. Jennifer Stankus speaks about atrial flutter in Pierce County Superior Court Thursday Nov. 16, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Police officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis.

An emergency physician called as a witness Thursday by defense attorneys challenged the original autopsy findings of what caused Ellis’ death.

Dr. Jennifer Stankus, who works at Madigan Army Medical Center, said Manuel Ellis’ death was related to his heart, not his respiratory system as prosecutors have claimed. She said it was her opinion that Ellis’ had a lethal amount of methamphetamine in his system and that the drug's effects along with his enlarged heart led to his death by heart failure.

The former Pierce County medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Clark, ruled Ellis’ death a homicide and determined that he died of a form of oxygen deprivation caused by physical restraint. Ellis had 2400 nanograms per milliliter of methamphetamine in his system, which Clark characterized as an “extremely high” concentration.

As a witness for the state, Clark testified earlier in the trial that meth had unpredictable effects, and it was the rhythm of Ellis’ heart as recorded on a heart monitor attached by paramedics that helped him rule the drug out as a primary factor in his death. He said the rhythm showed Ellis’ heart was not in a state of ventricular fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat Clark said is caused by methamphetamine. Ellis’ heart also didn’t go into a sudden dysrhythmia, Clark said, a common scenario for people who experience sudden death as a result of an enlarged heart.

Stankus disagreed. Under direct examination by an attorney for Officer Timothy Rankine, Mark Conrad, the doctor said the heart monitor data showed that Ellis’ heart rhythm was “all over the place.”

Clark’s original autopsy report stated that Ellis’ heart rhythm was normal when paramedics arrived. The heart monitor data was displayed on courtroom televisions, and Stankus said it showed that Ellis’ heart rhythm wasn’t normal.

“That’s a sick heart. This is a cardiac problem,” Stankus said. “This is not normal sinus rhythm.”

Asked why it wasn’t positional asphyxia that caused Ellis’ death, Stankus said the man still had a pulse when paramedics arrived and had shallow breathing. She said medics should have been able to save Ellis’ life if he was suffering from a respiratory issue. She pointed out that medics breathed for the man using a bag valve mask for five to six minutes, but Ellis’ condition still didn’t improve.

Stankus’ testimony supported defense attorneys’ contention that Ellis died not due to the actions of police but because of his meth use and underlying health conditions, including an enlarged heart. Prosecutors and their medical experts have stated that the way officers’ restrained Ellis, combined with a violent beating by police and the weight of officers on his back, caused him to asphyxiate.

Earlier in the morning, Conrad discussed Stankus’ extensive education, and he delved into Ellis’ medical history.

Stankus said she’s been practicing medicine since 2009, and aside from her work at Madigan Army Medical Center, she’s worked at hospitals in Tacoma, where she frequently saw patients visiting for drug-related issues or their mental health. Stankus also holds a law degree, and she once worked as a police officer in Colorado.

The doctor reviewed Ellis’ medical history to help her form her opinion on his cause of death. Stankus said he had dozens of visits to the emergency room before his death, which she said would be unusual for a 33-year-old if he didn’t have an underlying health condition. She said many visits were drug-related or to get help for shortness of breath and chest pain.

On one occasion, Ellis came into the emergency room with a very high heart rate of 206, Stankus said, and his healthcare providers spoke with him about how his drug use was problematic. On another visit regarding his mental health, Stankus said, the treatment section had to be cut short because he complained of “significant” shortness of breath and described waking up that morning feeling like he was breathing underwater. The doctor treating him at the time directed him to go to urgent care.

Before court broke for lunch, assistant attorney general Kent Liu began to cross-examine Stankus. The doctor conceded that pressure on a person’s back would restrict their ability to breathe to some extent, but she said it might not be clinically significant.

Liu also pointed out that Stankus hadn’t ever actually examined Ellis’ heart or other organ tissue. The cross examination was scheduled to continue Wednesday afternoon.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The News Tribune.

Court resumes, medical experts scheduled to testify

Posted November 16, 2023 at 9:59 AM PST

The trial resumes this morning with two medical experts scheduled to testify for the defense.

The first, Dr. Jennifer Stankus is an emergency room doctor and former police officer.

Dr. Richard Ries is the director of Outpatient Psychiatry and the Psychiatry Addiction Division at Harborview and a University of Washington professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Watch the proceedings via the courtroom livestream on the Pierce County website.

The News Tribune

Prosecutors cross-examine Tacoma officer Masyih Ford

Posted November 15, 2023 at 5:21 PM PST
Prosecuting attorney Patty Eakes holds up hobbles as she cross examines Tacoma Police Officer Masyih Ford on the witness stand at the trial of Manny Ellis in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 15, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis. Ellis was hobbled at the time of his arrest and death.
Ellen M. Banner
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
Prosecuting attorney Patty Eakes holds up hobbles as she cross examines Tacoma Police Officer Masyih Ford on the witness stand at the trial of Manny Ellis in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 15, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Ellis was hobbled at the time of his arrest and death.

Prosecutors sought Wednesday afternoon to weaken the testimony of a Tacoma police officer who previously told a jury that he didn't see his colleagues use excessive force against Manuel Ellis on the night Ellis died in 2020.

Officer Masyih Ford, who was partnered with defendant Timothy Rankine the night of March 3, 2020, testified in the morning that he would have intervened if he’d seen any inappropriate uses of force. Under cross-examination by special assistant attorney general Patty Eakes in the afternoon, he said his police training taught him to almost never leave someone in a prone position or put weight in the middle of someone’s back.

Ellis had been handcuffed by the time Ford arrived, the officer testified, and seconds later someone requested hobbles to immobilize Ellis’ legs. Ford said he didn’t know who applied the hobbles, but he remembered seeing the patch of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. The officer said the 29-inch-long hobble was looped around both ankles and tightened, and its carabiner went under the handcuffs and was attached back to the restraint, putting Ellis’ legs at a 90-degree angle.

Ford said Ellis wouldn’t have been able to stand up or run away in that position, and he agreed that at that point Ellis was under control and the fight was over. At least a dozen officers had arrived by that time, Ford said. Eakes asked him if, with that many officers, Ellis could have been picked up and brought to a patrol car. Ford said yes.

According to trial testimony, Ellis wasn’t released from the restraints until paramedics from the Tacoma Fire Department arrived. Ford said Ellis didn’t respond to attempts to talk to him, and he “was just laying there” when restraints were removed.

Experts for the prosecution testified that the way Ellis was restrained and the weight of officers taking turns sitting on his back is what killed him.

In a brief voir dire of Ford, an attorney for Burbank, Wayne Fricke, clarified that once hobbles were placed, his client and Collins left Ellis’ side to catch their breath.

Ellis told police he couldn’t breathe at least five times, according to trial testimony. Ford said he only heard it once, and someone else at the scene responded with something to the effect of “if you can talk you can breathe.” Ford said the comment sounded sarcastic, and it annoyed him.

Ford said he was trained to recognize when people are having difficulty breathing, but he didn’t tell arriving medical personnel about it, and he wasn’t sure if anyone else did either. He said in hindsight, it seemed it would have been important to tell them.

In the morning, Ford testified that Ellis was overpowering officers Collins and Burbank when he arrived because he was inching them into the street like a worm. On cross examination, Ford said Ellis only moved them a few feet.

Eakes started to ask Ford if Ellis could have been moving with the officers on his back because he couldn’t breathe or to try to relieve the pressure on him, but sustained objections from the defense stopped the line of questioning.

In a redirect examination, Ford told Fricke that Burbank had been his training officer for four weeks when he came to the Tacoma Police Department in 2019. He said they worked in South Tacoma, which wasn’t the easiest area to patrol, but that Burbank was always calm, respectful and treated suspects with dignity.

Ford was excused as a witness at the end of Wednesday’s trial proceedings. Defense testimony will continue Thursday.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The News Tribune.

The News Tribune

Tacoma officer Masyih Ford testifies, juror excused due to COVID-19 and judge discourages rallies outside courthouse

Posted November 15, 2023 at 1:08 PM PST
Tacoma Police Officer Masyih Ford, right, stands so he can show defense attorney Anne Bremner, attorney for Timothy Rankine, and the jury the gear he carries in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 15, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis. Ford was RankineÕs partner at the time of his killing.
Ellen M. Banner
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
Tacoma Police Officer Masyih Ford, right, stands so he can show defense attorney Anne Bremner, attorney for Timothy Rankine, and the jury the gear he carries in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 15, 2023, in Tacoma, WA. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with the death of Manny Ellis. Ford was Rankine's partner at the time of Ellis' killing.

Officer Masyih Ford, the partner of one of the Tacoma police officers on trial for the death of Manuel Ellis, told jurors Wednesday morning that none of the tactics he saw his partner use appeared excessive.

Ford responded along with Officer Timothy Rankine the night of March 3, 2020, after hearing mic clicks and a location shout-out from Officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who were the first to encounter Ellis in Tacoma’s South End.

Ford and Rankine arrived minutes after the initial struggle, which involved Collins elbow-striking Ellis in the face repeatedly and briefly putting him in a headlock. Burbank shot him with a series of Taser shocks, and Ellis was pressed to the ground face down with weight on his back until Ford and Rankine arrived. When Rankine got there, he said he put all of his weight on Ellis’ spine, according to previous testimony and investigative reports.

Ford had been partnered with Rankine for about four months before that night. Under direct examination by one of Rankine’s attorneys, Anne Bremner, Ford told jurors that as partners, it was their job to keep each other accountable. If he had seen any excessive use of force, Ford said he would have intervened.

When Ford arrived at the intersection of 96th Street and Ainsworth Avenue, he said it looked like Ellis was overpowering Collins and Burbank, inching them further into the street on his stomach while the two officers tried to control him.

“Never seen someone move officers while in handcuffs like that,” Ford said.

Ford tried to control Ellis’ left leg, and he said he had to hold it as tight as he could. He said Ellis was making noises like someone lifting heavy weights, and at one point he heard the man say, “I can’t breathe.”

The officers collectively put Ellis on his side so he could breathe better, Ford said. He then went to the front of Ellis and looked him in the eye, Ford testified, telling him to relax and that fire department medics were on the way. Ford said he didn’t see any response from Ellis.

“It was like he was looking through me,” the officer testified.

Ellis started thrashing on the ground again, Ford said, and Rankine put him back into the prone position. Ford said Ellis was placed on his side at least one more time before medics arrived.

Ford was one of two Tacoma police officers who in 2021 were cleared of any policy violations related to Ellis’ death in custody through a TPD Internal Affairs investigation. Ford was investigated for holding one of Ellis’ legs, and Armando Farinas was scrutinized for placing a spit hood over the man’s head.

Judge Bryan Chushcoff looks on as the state delivers opening remarks during the trial of Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, Tacoma, Wash.
Brian Hayes
/
Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Judge Bryan Chushcoff looks on as the state delivers opening remarks during the trial of Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, Tacoma, Wash.

Wednesday morning’s testimony was delayed by news that one juror had tested positive for COVID-19. Judge Bryan Chushcoff said juror four would be excused, and the trial would proceed. Other jurors will be tested for the coronavirus by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Little is known about juror four, who is a white woman.

The alternate juror who will take her place is a pastor from Graham, a multi-racial woman who prosecutors tried and failed to strike from the jury pool during jury selection.

Chushcoff also spent part of the morning discouraging people from rallying outside the courthouse during trial proceedings, saying such demonstrations weren’t in the interest of justice if the goal was to influence the outcome of the trial. Last Wednesday, about three dozen people gathered outside the County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue South to demand justice for Ellis’ death. Speakers included James Bible, an attorney representing Ellis’ family.

Chushcoff said the courtroom is situated on the same side of the building as Tacoma Avenue, and last week he watched part of the rally from inside. He said if demonstrations continue and jurors hear them, the integrity of the outcome would be affected.

“Everybody here as far as I know wants one thing from this case, which is an absolutely honest outcome, done right the first time,” Chushcoff said.

Prosecutors from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office said they had no information about the rally and they weren’t involved. Wayne Fricke, an attorney for Christopher Burbank, said the rally was trying to influence jurors, and he suggested that Chushcoff make an order disallowing protests on the building’s campus.

Chushcoff said the rally appeared to mostly take place on the public sidewalk, and he didn’t want to create an unnecessary confrontation.

Ford also testified about the difficulties he faced after Ellis’ death. He said people showed up at his house and threatened his spouse and his family. He now sees a mental health professional to help process what he saw the night Ellis died.

“It was an incredibly stressful event for me,” Ford said. “Seeing someone like that is .. you never forget it.”

Ford grew up in Tacoma and graduated from Stadium High School in 2010 before attending Western Washington University. At Stadium, he said Ellis’ mother, Marcia Carter-Patterson, was his counselor, and she was a mentor to him.

The officer is expected to continue testifying Wednesday afternoon.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The News Tribune.

Eyewitnesses undercut officers' defense, Officer Timothy Rankine's partner expect to testify next

Posted November 15, 2023 at 10:03 AM PST
Kennett Ashford-White, an eyewitness of the 2020 incident, testifies on cross-examination during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
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Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Kennett Ashford-White, an eyewitness of the 2020 incident, testifies on cross-examination during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

For weeks attorneys for the three Tacoma police officers charged with killing Manny Ellis have pointed to  two eyewitnesses who would support the police narrative. The eyewitnesses testified Tuesday.

Shad Hayes and Kennett Ashford-White didn’t see Officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank struggling with Ellis until he was face down on the pavement.

And when they testified they undercut the officers’ defense that Ellis fought back with "superhuman strength."

Hayes said he walked outside his house because of a patrol car’s flashing lights. On the stand, defense attorneys repeatedly asked Hayes about his initial police statement that Ellis was throwing the officers around.

“At no time did I see him actually stand up or did I see any blows struck. All I saw was they were struggling to trying to subdue him,” Hayes testified.

Ashford-White testified he went to his front door after he heard a woman yelling for officers to stop hitting Ellis. Defense attorneys brought up his initial police statement that Ellis manhandled the officers and asked him to elaborate.

"Physically being able to move a police officer from his stance on top," Ashford-White said.

"Could you kind of show us, like bucking like with his body?" asked Anne Bremner, an attorney for Officer Timothy Rankine.

"Like pushing off the ground," Ashford-White answered.

The defense’s next witness is expected to be defendant Officer Timothy Rankine’s partner Masyih Ford.

Watch the proceedings via the courtroom livestream on the Pierce County website.

The Seattle Times

Eyewitness says he never made statements that would have bolstered the officers' defense

Posted November 14, 2023 at 5:23 PM PST
Shad Hayes, an eyewitness to the 2020 incident, testifies during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
/
Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Shad Hayes, an eyewitness to the 2020 incident, testifies during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

Eyewitness testimony has presented jurors with a crucial choice: believe their version that the officers unnecessarily started the fatal struggle, or believe accounts of the officers, who say Ellis provoked it.

A witness called by the officers’ attorneys who was expected to undercut those eyewitness accounts instead testified Tuesday afternoon that investigators for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department attributed statements to him that he never made. The statements would have bolstered the officers’ defense.

“I told [detectives] exactly what I saw: There were two officers having trouble subduing the suspect,” Shad Hayes, who lived about a half-block from the site where Ellis died on March 3, 2020, testified.

However, Hayes was adamant that statements a detective claimed he made were incorrect. Hayes said he never told the detective that Ellis appeared intoxicated or that he heard bystanders arguing.

“I didn’t say any of this to the detective,” Hayes testified. “I don’t remember saying any of this.”

Pierce County Sheriff’s Lt. Byron Brockway, the detective who interviewed Hayes, testified earlier in the trial that he changed the designation of his investigation into Ellis’ death from “death investigation” to “aggravated assault of a public official” because he believed the Tacoma officers who characterized Ellis as the aggressor.

The investigation was not concluded due to a conflict of interest and the sheriff’s department never interviewed the eyewitnesses who testified that the officers were the aggressors.

During opening statements, defense lawyers for the officers touted Hayes and another witness who testified Tuesday afternoon, Kennett Ashford-White, as counterweights to eyewitnesses called by the prosecution who characterized officers as the aggressors.

Kennett Ashford-White, an eyewitness of the 2020 incident, points to where he lived at the time during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
/
Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Kennett Ashford-White, an eyewitness of the 2020 incident, points to where he lived at the time during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

While both Hayes and Ashford-White said Ellis was resisting arrest, neither testified that Ellis struck, kicked or otherwise threatened officers. Both said police were in control of Ellis by the time Rankine and other backup officers arrived to assist Burbank and Collins.

Hayes testified that he came outside to see what was happening after noticing flashing police lights. He said he saw two police officers struggling with Ellis and offered to help them.

But the police told him backup was on the way, so Hayes turned his attention to directing traffic.

Hayes said he did not see Ellis strike or kick officers nor did he see the officers use excessive force. He testified that he heard the officers say, “I can’t remember if it was ‘comply’ or ‘stop resisting.’”

Ashford-White, whose sister Aiyana Mallang has already testified that she heard a struggle outside the house they shared, affirmed Hayes’ testimony that Ellis was struggling as officers tried to gain control of him. Ashford-White had told detectives that Ellis was “manhandling” the officers, but he clarified on Tuesday that he meant Ellis was “bucking” while lying face down on the pavement, with an officer straddling his lower half.

“It looked like at some point the police officer had been pushed up by the person,” Ashford-White said. “They had been trying to get him under control to get the handcuffs on him.”

Ashford-White said he heard three Taser strikes, and then Ellis appeared to be under control. Those strikes, delivered by Burbank, were conducted before any other officers arrived.

Under cross-examination by special prosecutor Patty Eakes for the Attorney General’s Office, Ashford-White said he clearly heard Ellis say he couldn’t breathe as he stood “outside on the front porch” of his residence — just across the street from the struggle — around the same time that Rankine and his partner arrived.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court, when Rankine’s patrol partner, Masiyh Ford, who was a student of Ellis’ mother in high school, is expected to testify along with defense expert witnesses.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

Defense continues to spotlight Ellis' history of drug abuse

Posted November 14, 2023 at 12:17 PM PST
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Alexa Moss testifies about a 2015 incident involving Manny Ellis during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
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Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Alexa Moss testifies about a 2015 incident involving Manny Ellis during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

Lawyers for three Tacoma police officers on trial for the death of Manuel Ellis continued Tuesday morning to spotlight Ellis’ history of drug abuse.

Testimony focused on a 2015 arrest, when Ellis was allegedly high on methamphetamine, as he was on the night in March 2020 when he died. After spending Monday dissecting Ellis’ 2019 arrest on suspicion of attempted robbery, the defense continued to amplify Ellis’ lowest moments - some of them years old - to explain what happened on the night he died.

Defense lawyers for the officers on Monday focused on a 2019 arrest, when Ellis, high on meth, charged at Pierce County sheriff’s deputies and was subdued with a Taser. Tuesday, the defense again focused on Ellis’ past drug use, trying to convince the jury that those events are analogous to the night Ellis died.

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies who responded to a September 2015 domestic dispute between Ellis and his then-girlfriend testified Tuesday that he was high on meth, combative and resisted arrest.

Ellis was placed in handcuffs but complained that he was in discomfort from a prior shoulder injury. Deputies accommodated him by connecting two sets of handcuffs behind his back to make them less restrictive, Deputy Kevin Pressel testified. But Pressel conducted an inadequate search, and after Ellis was placed in the back of his patrol car, he saw Ellis fishing a hypodermic needle from one of his pants pockets.

Pressel said Ellis ignored commands to exit the car, so Pressel pulled him out by his arm and placed him prone on the street. With the help of two other deputies, Pressel tried to restrain Ellis. Pressell and another deputy, Alexa Moss, said Ellis behaved combatively and kicked a third deputy repeatedly in the back as she straddled his hips while he lay face down in the street. Moss testified that Ellis bucked and squirmed while trying to get deputies off of him. The officers who struggled with Ellis on the night he died offered similar descriptions.

“He was very strong,” Pressel said of Ellis. “He was lifting us off the ground.”

Pressel said the struggle with Ellis lasted less than a minute and the three deputies were able to gain control of him.

The morning’s testimony concluded with Shad Hayes on the stand. Hayes, who lived near where Ellis died, offered to help police, but they declined and said police backup was on its way. Testimony will resume Tuesday afternoon with Hayes on the witness stand.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The Seattle Times.

Opening statement and first witnesses for defense focus on Ellis' past

Posted November 14, 2023 at 7:00 AM PST
Defense attorney Casey Arbenz gives opening statements on behalf of defendant Matthew Collins during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
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Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Defense attorney Casey Arbenz gives opening statements on behalf of defendant Matthew Collins during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

Attorneys for the three Tacoma police officers charged with killing Manny Ellis opened their case Monday morning by bringing up two previous interactions between Ellis and law enforcement.

Casey Arbenz is the attorney for Officer Matthew Collins. In his opening statement, the attorney detailed two incidents with Pierce County sheriff’s deputies. In 2019, a naked Ellis was found in the street. He was Tasered to be restrained. He later said he had been in a “meth psychosis.”

A domestic dispute call in 2015 led to deputies putting Ellis in a patrol car. But after authorities say he grabbed for a syringe in his pocket, Ellis had to be Tasered. The syringe later tested positive for meth.  

On the night of the fatal encounter in 2020, the officers’ attorneys have argued Ellis was in a methamphetamine psychosis, which prompted his fight with police and contributed to his cardiac arrest.

Arbenz asked the jury to weigh whether it was more likely that the officers attacked Ellis "versus the suggestion that being that high on meth, he was out in the middle of the street causing a disturbance. And that because he was on conditions of release and not to be using methamphetamine, he decided to attack the police."

Arbenz described Collins as an Army veteran and decorated officer.

He also characterized South End Tacoma as a “rough neighborhood, one of the 'roughest in the state'" and said witnesses would be testifying about how tough it is to patrol the neighborhood and protect people. Collins along with Officers Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine are expected to testify.

Testimony resumes Tuesday morning. Watch the proceedings via the courtroom livestream on the Pierce County website.

The Seattle Times

Pierce County Sheriff's deputies testify about Ellis' 2019 arrest

Posted November 13, 2023 at 4:58 PM PST

Jurors heard testimony Monday afternoon about a previous arrest when Manuel Ellis was on methamphetamine and struggled with police.

Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies who arrested Ellis in 2019 after he allegedly tried to rob a fast-food restaurant described him as naked and apparently under the influence of drugs when he charged them and was subdued with a Taser. Lawyers for the officers on trial have argued that the earlier incidents show Ellis had a tendency to act aggressively toward police when he was high on methamphetamine.

In September 2019, Ellis was arrested after allegedly trying to steal from the cash register of a fast-food restaurant, where he was beaten by an employee as he tried to get away. Ellis was charged with attempted robbery and released on his own recognizance with the conditions that he abstain from drugs and get treatment for addiction.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Gabriel Bol, one of the officers present when Ellis was arrested in 2019, said he arrived to find Ellis lying nude on the ground on Pacific Avenue. Bol said he ordered Ellis to remain on the ground. “He didn’t comply. He charged at us, and I tased him,” Bol said. Later, Ellis admitted to Bol he was under the influence of meth and marijuana, Bol testified.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Arron Wolfe describes what is occurring in a video of a 2019 incident involving Manny Ellis during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
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Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Arron Wolfe describes what is occurring in a video of a 2019 incident involving Manny Ellis during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

Another deputy at the 2019 scene, Deputy Arron Wolfe, testified Monday afternoon that he had his gun drawn. Assistant Washington Attorney General Lori Nicolavo asked Wolfe whether Ellis had hit, kicked or hurt any officers at that point. Wolfe said Ellis had not, but because he advanced toward officers and disregarded their commands, Wolfe was prepared to shoot. However, he did not need to when Ellis was subdued with a Taser.

Like the night he died, Ellis was held down under the weight of deputies while prone and handcuffed.

“It hangs in my memory as a large call that I’ve had to respond to,” Wolfe testified.

After his arrest in 2019, Ellis awoke in a hospital with a medical technician treating his wounds. Cody Pollock, the medical technician, testified that when Ellis woke, “He sat up, postured at me and made a fist at me.” He called Ellis’ actions “a step up from the normal aggressiveness” he sometimes encountered in his job.

A nurse’s notes introduced into evidence describe Ellis’ demeanor when he woke in the hospital as “anxious and fearful” but not aggressive. Ellis’ discharge note from a doctor at the hospital the night of his 2019 arrest recommended follow-up care, then concluded by urging in all caps, “Stop using meth.”

Days after Ellis’ death, Collins and Burbank told detectives they contacted Ellis after seeing him reaching for the door handle of a car as it passed through an intersection. Collins, who weighs 235 pounds in his full police gear, told detectives Ellis started the physical altercation by hoisting him off of his feet and throwing him on his back. Eyewitnesses earlier in the trial contradicted Collins’ statement, saying the struggle started when Burbank flung open the door of a police cruiser and knocked Ellis to the ground.

Testimony resumes Tuesday.

Excerpted from pool report provided by The Seattle Times.

Judge's previous ruling tees up what the defense can say about Ellis' past

Posted November 13, 2023 at 2:15 PM PST

Attorneys are generally barred from introducing individual’s prior “bad acts” as improper character evidence at trials. But the question of how Manny Ellis’ struggle with Tacoma police on March 3, 2020, began is big enough that Judge Bryan Chushcoff is allowing defense attorneys some leeway when it comes to the victim in this case.

Read more about Chushcoff's ruling in October about what defense attorneys can say.

The Seattle Times

Attorney for Matthew Collins makes opening statements, defense calls its first witness

Posted November 13, 2023 at 12:31 PM PST
Defense attorney Casey Arbenz gives opening statements on behalf of defendant Matthew Collins during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.
Brian Hayes
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Pool Photo - The News Tribune
Defense attorney Casey Arbenz gives opening statements on behalf of defendant Matthew Collins during the trial of three Tacoma Police officers in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine stand trial for charges related to the March 2020 killing of Manny Ellis.

A lawyer for one of three Tacoma police officers on trial for the death of Manuel Ellis told jurors Monday to be skeptical of key prosecution witnesses and urged them to focus on Ellis’ history of drug use.

Casey Arbenz, a lawyer representing officer Matthew Collins, used his Monday morning opening statement, which he had deferred presenting at the beginning of the trial, to spotlight two prior arrests of Ellis – in 2015 and 2019 – when he was under the influence of methamphetamine.

“You’ll see how Mr. Ellis responds to police when he’s on methamphetamine,” Arbenz said, suggesting that the earlier arrests were harbingers of Ellis’ actions on the night he died. The officers have characterized Ellis as the instigator of the fight that ended in his death.

Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, after a struggle with police. Ellis said he couldn’t breathe at least five times while police continued to apply force. The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’s death a homicide caused by lack of oxygen from physical restraint. Lawyers for the officers contend Ellis died from the high level of methamphetamine in his system and an enlarged heart.

Collins, 40, Christopher “Shane” Burbank, 38, and Timothy Rankine, 34, are charged with first-degree manslaughter. Collins and Burbank, who were the first to engage with Ellis, also face second-degree murder charges. All three have pleaded not guilty, are free on bail and remain employed by the Tacoma Police Department on paid leave.

Before resting their case last week, prosecutors from the Washington Attorney General’s Office presented three eyewitnesses who say they saw the interaction between Collins, Burbank and Ellis from the start. Each said the officers attacked Ellis without provocation. Two of them recorded cellphone videos of the struggle. Medical experts for the prosecution testified that restraint by the officers was the most important factor in Ellis’s death.

Arbenz told jurors to expect contradictory testimony from the defense’s expert witnesses, who are expected to say that meth and poor heart health – not the officers – killed Ellis. Arbenz said the defense also aims to upend the eyewitness claims that they saw the whole struggle between Ellis and officers.

Ellis “had no quit in him,” Arbenz said, so Collins and Burbank were forced to respond physically. Collins told detectives the fight began when Ellis lifted him and threw him into the air, causing him to land on his back, although no other witnesses describe seeing that.

Arbenz described Collins as a husband, a father of four and “a decorated officer” who spent eight years in the Army, resulting in multiple combat deployments.

“Take into account his 13 years of service to our city and our country … the way he’s fought for you,” Arbenz said near the conclusion of his opening statement.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff admonished Arbenz for his “inappropriate comment.”

Before the noon recess, Rankine’s lawyers called a witness to a 2019 incident that led to Ellis’ arrest on suspicion of attempted robbery at a Tacoma fast food restaurant. An employee described Ellis attempting to grab cash from the store’s register while another employee fought him off.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Arron Wolfe, who helped arrest Ellis in 2019, said he found Ellis naked and running in and out of the street. At one point, after being compliant, Ellis “hopped up and ran at me.” Wolfe ordered Ellis to the ground and he complied. Wolfe said Ellis charged one more time and a taser was used to subdue him. The jury saw a bystander video of the 2019 arrest that comported with Wolfe’s testimony.

Before the defense began presenting its case, special prosecutor Patty Eakes for the Washington Attorney General’s Office unsuccessfully argued to exclude some details of Ellis’s 2019 arrest. “Mr. Ellis is not on trial,” she said.

Testimony will resume Monday afternoon with Wolfe on the witness stand.

Pool report provided by The Seattle Times

See KNKX's past coverage of the trial

Posted November 13, 2023 at 11:01 AM PST
During a rally, Reverend Gregory Christopher (just left of center at left, wearing a cross) leads supporters of Manny Ellis in a prayer in front of the City-County Building in Tacoma where the trial for three Tacoma police officers charged with the death of Manny Ellis is being held in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with his death.
Ellen M. Banner
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Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
During a rally, Reverend Gregory Christopher (just left of center at left, wearing a cross) leads supporters of Manny Ellis in a prayer in front of the City-County Building in Tacoma where the trial for three Tacoma police officers charged with the death of Manny Ellis is being held in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

The trial of three Tacoma police officers entered its eighth week on Monday.

Last week, the prosecution rested its case. After a motion by the defense to dismiss the charges against the officers was denied, all parties prepared for the trial to move forward.

A coalition of nine different civil rights and social justice organizations from across Tacoma also held the first public demonstration since the trial started in September.

Here are links to KNKX's previous live blogs, where we've posted daily updates since the trial started:

Questions or comments about the trial? Contact us at outreach@knkx.org

Officers' attorneys begin their defense Monday

Posted November 13, 2023 at 9:37 AM PST
Defense attorney Jared Ausserer, right, speaks to Tacoma Police officers Matthew Collins, left, and Christopher ÒShaneÓ Burbank, center, shortly before the beginning of their trial for the killing of Manny Ellis in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma Wednesday, October 4, 2023.
Ellen M. Banner
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Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
Defense attorney Jared Ausserer, right, speaks to Tacoma Police officers Matthew Collins, left, and Christopher "Shane" Burbank, center, shortly before the beginning of their trial for the killing of Manny Ellis in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma Wednesday, October 4, 2023.

Attorneys for the three Tacoma police officers charged with killing Manny Ellis begin their defense Monday.

Officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank face felony murder and manslaughter charges for Tasering and choking Ellis, then restraining him face down in a hogtie.

Officer Timothy Rankine is accused of manslaughter for pressing down on Ellis' back to the point he suffocated.

During the trial so far, the officers' defense has had two main prongs. First, they didn’t kill Ellis. Ellis had a potentially lethal amount of methamphetamine in his system and a slightly enlarged heart. Both make the heart work harder, sometimes causing cardiac arrest.

The defense has also pointed to the other police officers who helped restrain Ellis or supervised the scene but have never been charged. The attorneys say their clients can’t be guilty if others were in charge or did things they couldn’t control.

The second prong is that even if the officers are responsible for killing Ellis, they were doing their jobs to restrain a violent man who was able to drag four officers across the ground while facedown in handcuffs. In other words, the defense argues if Ellis died from the restraints, he had himself to blame for not cooperating.

The defense is expected to present its case in 10 days of testimony.

Watch the proceedings via the courtroom livestream on the Pierce County website.