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A conversation with Manuel Ellis' sister, one year after his death

Attorney James Bible, bottom right, and the family of the late Manuel Ellis are seen at a press conference in June. On Friday, Bible announced the family's plan to seek $30 million in damages in a lawsuit against the city of Tacoma.
Parker Miles Blohm
Attorney James Bible, bottom right, and the family of the late Manuel Ellis are seen at a press conference in June.

Author's note: I chose this interview with the sister of Manuel Ellis because it was emotional and honest. Monet Carter-Mixon was channeling her grief over losing her brother into activism about police accountability, but she hadn't really had a chance to grieve, one year after his death. I appreciated her sharing stories about his life and what she missed most about him. — Kirsten Kendrick on why this was a memorable story of 2021

Wednesday marks one year since Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma police. The 33-year-old Black man was heard on video saying he couldn't breathe as officers restrained him following an altercation that began when police say they saw Ellis trying to open the door of a car that wasn't his. His death was ruled a homicide.

The State Patrol investigated. And Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson will decide in the coming weeks whether any of the officers involved will face charges. Meanwhile, Ellis' family is spending today remembering him.

KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick talked with Ellis' sister, Monet Carter-Mixon. Listen to their conversation above or read the transcript below. Both have been edited for length and clarity.

Kirsten Kendrick, KNKX: What are the memories of your brother that you hold the most dear? 

Monet Carter-Mixon: It's hard to have memories right now, to remember things, because of the images and the video. That's what is, like, taking over my memories in my head, of my brother being killed. I feel like I'm losing memories because this tragedy has taken over them. And it's all I can really think about or see or hear. I have a recording of his voice; it was just of him laughing, of his laugh, because he had a really funny laugh. So when that happens, I try to replay that because if not, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic because all I can hear is, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." Or him screaming. 

KNKX: How do you feel about how the state has conducted its investigation into your brother's death? 

Carter-Mixon: I just don't think the state has been very forthcoming and truthful. I think that it's a political game for them. And it's not political for me because my brother is dead, and I want his murderers to be brought to justice. But, I mean, technically the attorney general has had my brother's case now since November. And I don't understand why it's going to take any longer. And my brother's murder technically has been investigated three times. 

KNKX: I wanted to talk a little bit about what was learned from the release of the State Patrol's investigation. Some new facts came to light. For instance, we learned that a fifth Tacoma police officer arrived at the scene and placed the spit hood over your brother's head. That wasn't previously known. What was your reaction to the new details that emerged? 

Carter-Mixon: I was upset. That information was never given to us. People with larger platforms began to request these records, the police reports. And if it wasn't for them doing those requests, we wouldn't have found out about a fifth officer and a sixth officer — it was an off-duty sergeant for Pierce County Sheriff's Office, and he helped them put my brother in a hobble. 

Monèt Carter-Mixon, 30, is Manuel Ellis' younger sister.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
Monet Carter-Mixon is Manuel Ellis' younger sister.

KNKX: Do any of these new details change the way you think about who's directly responsible for your brother's death? 

Carter-Mixon: No, now it's just more people are responsible. They all still had a duty and an obligation to my brother. He was a victim, and it was overkill. Someone should have spoken up and said something, and no one did. And no one is speaking up and saying anything, and there's still time to do it. Because come hell or high water, my brother will get justice one way or another. 

KNKX: How do you see things moving forward? Do you think you'll eventually be able to mourn his death? Is it impossible to separate becoming the activist that you've become in the year since he's died? I was just wondering how you kind of rectify both of those roles you have. 

Carter-Mixon: I'm only looking at it with one lens. I'm not looking at it anymore, like, from just a grieving little sister. Now I'm just trying to strategize, like what can I do to get this person's attention so they acknowledge that this happened to my brother? I guess I am kind of cutting off my emotions. I guess that's a way that I'm keeping myself busy so I don't necessarily have time to grieve. 

KNKX: You're also a mother, right? How many children do you have? 

Carter-Mixon: Yeah, I'm a single mom. I have five kids, and they all range between the ages of 11 and almost 2 years old. That in itself also keeps me really busy. I go to school. 

KNKX: Yeah, that is a lot. And you also have said that Manny helped you take care of your kids. What do they understand about what happened to him? How do you talk with them about it? 

Carter-Mixon: I'm pretty open with my children. So my kids are still grieving. They still are angry. All of them, even my nieces and my nephew, when they see a police car, they freeze up. If they see sirens or lights, they panic. I've seen them do it. It's hard for them. And I think people may not understand when a child is directly impacted like that, it's hard to try and, like, heal them. 

KNKX: You've been very vocal about wanting to see police face consequences for his death, but you've also openly talked about other struggles in his life. Can you tell me about some of the other challenges that Manny faced? 

Carter-Mixon: So Manny struggled, first and foremost, with being a victim of abuse  — child abuse and then sexually abused as well while he was being physically abused. When my brother was about 17 or 18, that's when he started to like kind of experiment with drinking and marijuana. And then, I think the exposure to that kind of led him down a dark, dark path. His drug of choice was methamphetamines. Before he had died, he started to take his sobriety more seriously. He was addressing his mental health issues. The things that he endured, I endured as well. I just think that the way that I channeled it was different than how he channeled it. I also got help when I was really, really young. I was in therapy for a really long time. But my brother, come to find out, he was schizoaffective, he had ADHD, he had depression. And him being schizoaffective, when it really set in, I could see how that could have led him down the path that he went down. It's really hard for me to say, "Oh, my brother was a drug addict," you know, because if you look at his life and the things that he had to go through, he was just trying to not feel any pain. And I just wanted him to get better. And he did. He really did, and he was a really good person. And it's just really, really sad that he had to die in such a violent way, a painful way, when he had to go through so much pain throughout his life. It's just not right. 

KNKX: There have been so many vigils and marches because of your brother's death. And as you continue to mourn and have seen how the community has reacted to his death, is there anything that has given you hope over this past year? 

Carter-Mixon: I don't know if I have hope right now because the officers with Breonna Taylor weren't charged. In Clark County, we've had two officer-involved shootings. In Tacoma, we've had police run over people in the street. And still no one's talking about it, or it's been left alone. And when they were talking about it, there was no talks of accountability and punishment for the officers that committed the crimes. So I don't know. I don't have hope anymore. I have lots of worry that something worse is going to happen. 

KNKX's Will James contributed to this story.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.