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Officers plead not guilty in killing of Manuel Ellis

The three Tacoma Police officers charged in the death of Manuel Ellis pleaded not guilty Friday in Pierce County Superior Court.

The men, clad in orange jail jumpsuits, appeared via livestream from the Pierce County Jail.

Christopher Burbank, 35, and Matthew Collins, 38, were both charged with second-degree murder. Witnesses reported that they attacked Ellis without provocation. 

Timothy Rankine, 32, was charged with first-degree manslaughter. He is accused of kneeling on Ellis’ back and shoulder as he died from a lack of oxygen, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court. 

Not guilty pleas were entered on their behalf. Each is being held on $100,000 bail. 

Special assistant attorney general Patty Eakes, representing the state, asked for bail to be set at $1 million, but defense attorneys argued that the men are not flight risks. 

“There’s nothing to suggest he’s ever going to commit a crime — he didn’t commit this crime,” Burbank’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, told the judge. “If these guys were going to run — and he, specifically — that would have occurred in the last 14 months.”

Rankine's attorney argued that his bail should be lower because he acted as a backup officer and faces the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Schwartz concurred with defense attorneys, citing that all three turned themselves in voluntarily Thursday and none has a criminal history.

Ellis, 33, died on March 3, 2020 — Tasered, handcuffed and hogtied, with his face covered by a spit hood — just weeks before George Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing.

The charged officers could face up to life in prison if convicted, but the standard sentencing range is 10 to 18 years for second-degree murder with no prior criminal history, and 6.5 to 8.5 years for manslaughter.

Ellis’ family lawyer, James Bible, was outside the courtroom.

"The family remains dedicated to achieving some amount of justice. In this case, they finally had the opportunity to see these officer defendants because that's what they are now, in orange jumpsuits, facing a judge,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to