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Decision expected by May 27 on whether officers will be charged in Manuel Ellis' death

Supporters of Manuel Ellis hang a poster with his photo during a celebration in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood earlier this year.
Parker Miles Blohm
KNKX (file)
Supporters of Manuel Ellis hang a poster with his photo during a celebration in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood earlier this year.

UPDATE, May 25: The Attorney General's Office said in a statement Tuesday, May 25, that it will announce a charging decision in the case on Thursday, May 27.  

It’s been more than a year since Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma police and six months since the Washington State Patrol concluded its investigation into his death. Now, a highly anticipated charging decision is expected to come out of the state Attorney General’s Office in the coming weeks. 

A review team convened by Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Friday that it will decide on or before May 27 if the police officers involved in Ellis’ death will face criminal charges. 

Ellis, a Black man, was killed while being restrained by Tacoma police in March 2020. 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. A medical examiner’s report, made public weeks later, ruled his death a homicide

Four officers remain on paid administrative leave, pending a charging decision: Matthew Collins, 37, and Christopher Burbank, 34, who are white; Masyih Ford, 28, who is Black; and Timothy Rankine, 31, who is Asian American. 

The charging decision has been delayed several times, most recently in March, drawing criticism from Ellis’ family and activists who say the investigation at all levels has taken too long.

“I just don't think the state has been very forthcoming and truthful. I think that it's a political game for them,” Monét Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister, told KNKX Public Radio in an interview on the anniversary of her brother’s death. “And it's not political for me because my brother is dead, and I want his murderers to be brought to justice.”

Friday’s announcement states the team needed more time to continue its own investigation — beyond what was completed by law enforcement. 

“This investigation included interviews of witnesses who had not previously been interviewed by law enforcement,” the statement reads. “The Office also identified and examined additional forensic evidence.” 

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department initially conducted an independent investigation, until Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the state to intervene upon learning about what he called “an incurable conflict.” That was spurred by information that Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Gary Sanders was on the scene and helped restrain Ellis. Sanders was never placed on leave, nor was Tacoma police Officer Armando Farinas, who also reportedly helped restrain Ellis. 

The team for the attorney general’s review of Ellis’ death includes prosecutors, a representative of his office’s Civil Rights Division and two retired judges.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards reiterated her support for Ellis' family and stressed the need for a thorough review. 

"While it does not ease the grief of those waiting, we appreciate the Attorney General establishing a firm deadline for a charging decision in this case," Woodards said in the statement. 

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.