Family of Manuel Ellis plans to file $30 million lawsuit against City of Tacoma
Nearly six months after Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma police, his family says they plan to seek $30 million in damages in a lawsuit against the city.
The family's attorney, James Bible, said he planned to file a precursor to a lawsuit known as a tort claim with the city on Friday afternoon.
The announcement came on what would have been Ellis' 34th birthday.
"My son was a Black man who loved his children, who loved his family," Ellis' mother, Marcia Carter, told reporters outside Tacoma City Hall. "You want to hear from me? I'm pissed off. I'm mad as hell that my son can't be here with us celebrating today. I went 28 hours of labor with him. I miss my boy."
Ellis died March 3 after officers took him to the ground, used a Taser on him, and handcuffed him on a residential street in South Tacoma. "I can't breathe, sir," Ellis told an officer in his last recorded words, captured by a nearby security camera.
The Pierce County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, attributing it to a lack of oxygen "as a result of physical restraint, positioning" and the placement of a "spit hood" over his mouth. The medical examiner also said methamphetamine was a contributing factor.
Carter was joined by Ellis' two surviving siblings, his older brother Matthew Ellis and his younger sister Monet Carter-Mixon. Ellis also had two children, an 18-month-old daughter and 11-year-old son, when he died.
"My brother wasn't no piece of crap, no low-down Black man," said his older brother, Matthew Ellis. "My brother had a future. He was a musician. He was one of my best friends."
Ellis' family members have called on the officers to be fired and charged with crimes. On Friday, they expressed frustration that an investigation by the Washington State Patrol, which began two months ago on June 23, still hasn't reached a conclusion.
"It's been so long," Matthew Ellis said. "If this was anybody else, they'd be locked up."
"We understand the frustration that the family expressed and share their desire for a thorough independent investigation that is completed as swiftly as possible," Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and city manager Elizabeth Pauli said in a statement Friday.
Bible, the attorney, said the lawsuit may name the four officers who were at the scene of Ellis' death — Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Masyih Ford, and Timothy Rankine — as defendants. He said it's not yet clear whether the lawsuit will be filed in state or federal court.
Carter, Ellis' mother, previously worked in Tacoma schools and said she was close to one of the officers, Ford, when he was a student.
Bible also shared a text message between Tacoma police officers in which one officer, who was not involved in Ellis' death, appears to call the officers who were at the scene "studs" and says, "The entire second floor backs you."
Another text shows an officer's badge, gun and handcuffs alongside a "Punisher" insignia from the Marvel Comics franchise.
Bible said the skull-like symbol has been adopted by some to represent "vigilante justice."
"The Punisher was a murderer," Bible said. "The Punisher was something that acted as judge, jury and executioner. The Punisher symbol has actually been adopted by snipers in the United States military."