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Episode 4: A Blessed Child

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Lance Kagey Of Rotator Creative

Manny’s walk home ended at 96th and Ainsworth. It started 33 years earlier.

Find more information at thewalkhomepodcast.org.

The 2020 police killing of Manuel "Manny" Ellis, a Black man in Tacoma, brought a reckoning to Washington State and has set up what promises to be one of the highest-profile trials in Pacific Northwest history.

The story unfolds in The Walk Home, a podcast by KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times, with support from NPR. It's sponsored by MovetoTacoma.com, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and Group Health Foundation.


Links to source materials


Transcript

Note: The Walk Home was produced as an audio series. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the series. This transcript is provided for reference only and may contain typos. Please confirm accuracy before quoting.

Episode 4: “A Blessed Child”

Mayowa Aina: This episode mentions sexual and physical abuse of children. Please take care while listening.

Kari Plog: “So I want to ask you, Marcia As a mom. I mean, I don't ever think about coming and tending to my daughter's grave. What is that like?” 

Marcia Carter-Patterson: “Well at first. It was hell. It was always crying. Most of the time, you know, or sometimes I'll cry after I leave here. Because I never thought in a million years that my baby would go.”

Plog: “So I noticed when we got here and you were, setting up all this stuff you are. I heard you talking to him. Do you talk to Manny a lot when you come here?”  

Carter: “I talk with Manny even when I'm not here (laughs).” 

Plog: “What do you talk to him about?”

Carter-Patterson: “Oh man, everything! One morning he came to me in a dream and. He had on white. The white suit and white shoes. His hair was cut, close face was clean. And he was turning cartwheels up in heaven, having a grand time. So when I talk to him, honestly, Kari, I have peace.”

Plog: Marcia is arranging some small flower pots - bulbs that will probably bloom soon.

Carter-Patterson: “I’m gonna put one here so you can see Manny’s name.” 

Plog: And she’s fiddling with lights she brought to drape around his grave. But they won't turn on.

Carter-Patterson: “I wish this light would turn on. What’s wrong with you? You worked very well when I put it in the bag. And not it’s not working.”

Plog: Maybe she needs to come back with some batteries.

Carter-Patterson: “Oh man!”

Plog: As she’s about to pack up for the night…

Carter-Patterson: “Okay. And … hey!” 

Plog: “Oh hey!” 

Carter-Patterson: “Hot dog!” 

Plog: The lights flicker on.

Carter-Patterson: “Manny! See?! Manny, thank you. Thank you, baby. I knew you'd like this! My baby. I tell you the truth. He's always gonna make sure that his mama is gonna be all right. You know that?” 

Plog: Marcia makes sure Manny’s plot stands out, just like he did.

Plog: “So the sun's going down. It's cold out. But you're out here planting flowers. Why?”

Carter-Patterson: “You see that? 08/28/1986 - 3/3/2020? Many are called, but few are chosen. My son was chosen. When I was six months pregnant. I was filled with the precious Holy Ghost with him. Red, high heeled shoes. I'm going to be funny. Red, high heeled shoes, a red straw hat, and the the Lord bless me, the dance and jump up just like he did Mary and Martha. I'm not kidding you. This is the least that I can do for my son.” 

Plog: Even after it got dark, even with a knee injury, Marcia spent a couple of hours down in the damp grass, fixing up that tombstone. The world knows Manny because of how he died, but Marcia will always know Manny as her baby.

Carter-Patterson: “The party never started, girl, until Manny got there.

He watched the news every single day. 

He got a drum set when he was three or four years old. And he continued to play. 

That's what he loved. His love was jazz. Me and Manny connected with Miles Davis 

He would tell jokes. And in fact, he was the jokester in the family. “

Plog: Lots of people told us stories about Manny. About a man who took care of his family, who loved God, who found joy in all types of music. Someone who was sharp and thoughtful. Their stories also paint a picture of a man who was struggling with trauma from abuse, with addiction. Someone who had made mistakes and was trying to move past them. They paint a picture of how Manny ended up at 96th and Ainsworth on March 3, 2020.

Looking back at everything that happened throughout Manny’s life, his walk to that corner didn’t start the night he died. It started almost 33 years before that.

From KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times, this is The Walk Home. Episode 4: A Blessed Child.

Plog: Manny was born in Tacoma on August 28, 1986. His dad died from stomach cancer when he was just 2 months old, so Marcia was left raising Manny and his older brother on her own.

Carter-Patterson: “Manny was my middle child you guys. I always wanted him to know he had a place. He never had to worry about his place with me. Because he knew that his mama loved him. And I would do anything for my son, for my children.” 

Plog: Manny was 4 when his sister Monèt was born.

Monèt Carter-Mixon: “We would climb trees, jump out of trees. Manny was notorious for making, like mud pies and eating ladybugs. We spent a lot of time, like, outside playing, riding our bikes. Like, typical nineties kids, you know, like, totally unsupervised, like outside for way too long, 8 to 9 hours a day, like. And we were homeschooled too, so…”

Plog: “I want to know more, like how you would describe Manny.”

Carter-Mixon: Manny was the funny one and the troublemaker Manny. So he always get in trouble. Like Manny would get a whopping every single day like. Sometimes three times a day because he was always doing stuff.

Carter-Patterson: “Manny played soccer. He wrestled. He played football. He played basketball.  Track is where he found his gift. The hundred. He placed. It's not like first in the state, but it was eighth in the whole state. He high jumped. He was an athlete.” 

Plog: Marcia kept her kids busy. She loves bragging about all the things they were good at growing up. For Monèt, it was dancing. Matthew was the artistic one, drawing and writing. He’s a photographer now. Once when Manny was little, before getting really into sports and band, he played the Mad Hatter in a children’s theater production of Alice in Wonderland.

Carter-Patterson: “(laughs) I’m telling you! He was like ‘Mom, I don’t want to do this.’ ‘You’re doing it okay? You’re getting on that stage and you’re acting it.’ (laughs). I just stayed right there with him and made him do it. Dropped him off every day and he did it (laughs).”

Plog: They lived in a tight-knit neighborhood, full of kids who ran around playing together until it got dark. That included Sarah Simmons.

Sarah Simmons: “In high school was when I like had a crush on him. And I was in ninth grade. He was like 11th grade and… yeah”

Plog: For a long time, Sarah was the love of Manny’s life.

Simmons: “Still, I can't really look at any situation I've ever been in, I was never so crazy about somebody. (Laughs) I used to climb in his window, and I would always stay with Monèt in her bed and wait for her to go to work early in the morning, and we'd all hang out, like I'd sneak in his room.” 

Plog: It was that sappy, whirlwind teen romance. All-consuming, maybe a little naive, nothing-will-ever-tear-us-apart kind of love. That feeling nobody seems to understand, except you and this other person. The stuff that makes your parents roll their eyes behind your back.

Simmons: “I loved how sweet he was, and I loved how he loved jazz. He got me into jazz. He was, like, the best drummer I've ever seen. He had a drum set inside of his room, I remember. And he just didn't care. He'd play in there and you'd hear him from the street.”

Plog: Manny was serious about Sarah.

Simmons: “His father, he passed away of cancer. He only had one thing of him. And it was this blue teddy bear with one missing eyeball. And it was just like so just old and rugged. And it was just cute. He'd always have it on his bed. For my birthday, he gave it to me. And that was like, even I was like, you know, ‘I can't take this.’ 

Plog: Manny wouldn’t take it back.

Simmons: “We went through all our high school years together afterwards. And growing and maturing. So I seen a lot of him like ups and downs and I've seen like his true colors (laughs).”

Plog: “How did you talk about the future? What were your plans together?”

Simmons: “God, we didn't even talk about our future (laughs). I don't think. I think we just like winged it. think during those times we were so young, it was like, what were we like 19, 20?  You work, you pay your bills and then you hang out with your friends.”

Plog: Manny and Sarah were living together in Portland, Oregon. Manny wanted to be a drummer. But soon, they drifted apart.

Simmons: “And I’d just seen a whole different change in him, and that's when it started not really working out. His just whole attitude. He started just acting different. He was just everywhere. His thoughts. I knew he hid it from me for a while.  But I knew, you know, I knew my man. I knew something wasn't right. And either it was drugs or it was, you know, mental health.”

Plog: Monèt says Manny was smoking weed to numb himself.

Carter-Mixon: “It triggered something for him. I remember Manny telling me that when he smoked weed for the first time, that was his highest high. And then he kept smoking it, thinking that he was going to get that high again. And he didn't. But he wanted that again. He liked that feeling.” 

Plog: Sarah knew it was over. She still wanted Manny to be happy. And she was worried about him.

Simmons: “He did take a turn when we broke up and I stayed in Portland.  And he stayed in Washington. Yeah, because it just, it wasn't working out.. He, like, totally just felt like he could not live anymore.  He was like he was kind of getting a little, like, suicidal, too, like he doesn't want to live anymore. And I'd just be like ‘Okay, like, let's just chill.’” 

Carter-Mixon: “He broke down like he was on the floor, like crying uncontrollably, inconsolable, like for hours. And of course, now I know if you're crying for that long, you like, obviously you're having a panic attack. There's some depression and like there's something going on there. Then I didn't know, but I knew, like, that's not normal. But I think that, at that moment, it became apparent to my mom that something was wrong with him.”

Plog: That’s around the time Manny’s mom, Marcia, realized it wasn’t just weed. He had a more serious drug problem. He was 24 years old and staying with her.

Carter-Mixon: “And he had stole from her. And when he had stole from her, she had told him, like, you know, ‘You can't stay here anymore.’”

Plog: The breakdown over his ex, the drugs, the stealing, Monèt believes it was all connected to the parts of Manny’s childhood that weren't so happy. Parts he hadn’t really dealt with. She says he was self medicating over abuse that they both suffered as kids.

You see, Monèt was born a few years after Manny’s dad died. It was her dad who helped raise her older brothers. He’s been dead for over a decade, but Monèt has vivid memories of her dad sexually abusing her when she was young. And she remembers him beating Manny, too.

Carter-Mixon: “My dad was really abusive.There was a time when, like, Manny had just, broke his growth plate playing football, in his knees. And so he had just got his cast taken off and my dad had told, like, Manny to do something, and Manny had said something smart back. And Manny was like maybe 12 or 13. And my dad just like started like beating on him, threw him in the Christmas tree almost. He could have rebroke his knee the way that he had thrown him in the way that Manny had landed. Physically, nothing hurt Manny. But emotionally, it hurt.”

Plog: When Manny was an adult, he revealed even more about what he dealt with as a kid. He told his family that a relative sexually abused him for years when he was a child.

Carter-Mixon: “We didn't know that until. Manny was, like, almost 30 years old. And, you know, maybe that's why he would act out and act the way he did when he was younger, because he wanted someone to ask him why, you know, ‘Why are you acting like this? Like what's going on?’ You know, and he obviously couldn't express himself or show emotion because that wasn't allowed.” 

Plog: Monèt says a kid like Manny – a Black boy in the 90s – was expected to swallow his feelings no matter how traumatic. And she remembers Manny struggling to sit still in school.

Carter-Mixon: “He would talk too much and he would crack jokes and he wouldn't turn in his work. So, like, my mom would sometimes have to sit on top of him to make him do work, turn it in. He could of did really, really well in school. But I think part of it is like, again, we're in the ‘90s, like nobody has autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder or any like, any other thing besides like maybe some kids may have dyslexia, that’s a thing that they did back then. And even then, if he did have it and was diagnosed with it in our community you're not going to tell the doctor that you have that they don't want them in our business. You're not going to get medication for it. You're just going to get your ass beat so you can learn how to sit down and shut up.”

Plog: So, Manny bottled all of this up for most of his life.

Carter-Mixon: “He was chasing a high, you know, and we know now it's because he was trying to numb whatever it was that he had been feeling this whole entire time. And when he got that very first high, that cured him of everything and it made him feel invincible. It made him happy, you know? And he told me, he said ‘That high, that was what I got when I did meth. And every time I did meth that’s what it did.’”  

Plog: People close to him say Manny was easy to love. But he needed more than that. He needed help. Instead, he went looking for that high. It sent him into a messy cycle that was hard to break out of.

Archival (courtroom recording): “Alright. We’re on the record for a negotiated sanction review session for Manuel Ellis.”

Patrick Malone: “It's almost impossible to understand the circumstance of how Manuel Ellis's life ended without understanding how he got to that particular intersection on that particular night. And it's inextricable from his past.”

Plog: Seattle Times Investigative Reporter Patrick Malone knows a lot about what Manny was up to in his late 20s and early 30s.

Archival (courtroom recording): “If you could raise your right hand. Do you solemnly affirm that the testimony you’re about to give in this matter is the truth Mr. Ellis?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I do.”

Malone: “In all these things, all that I had learned about Manuel Ellis in the first few months of this and maybe even the first year, I'd never heard his voice. But it was like a ghost walked into the room when I first heard those courtroom recordings.” 

Plog: Around this time, Manny was in and out of jails and courtrooms. He was seeking treatment for addiction and mental health leaving a paper trail of public records that paint a picture of a turbulent point in his life. Those records show Manny started getting into more serious trouble in 2013 and 2014, a few years into his heavy drug use.

Then, in 2015, Manny was arrested and charged for trying to cash a stolen check at a MoneyTree. A revolving door of arrests followed for the next four years. He went to jail over…

Archival (courtroom recording): “Please state your name for the record.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Manuel Elijah Ellis.”

Plog: And over…

Archival (courtroom recording): “For the record, could you state your name and date of birth.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Manuel Elijah Ellis.”

Plog: And over again.

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Manuel Elijah Ellis.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Manuel Elijah Ellis.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Manuel Ellis”

Plog: Manny went through mental health court, a program meant to help get him back on track. He was arrested six times for violating the requirements – like missing scheduled appointments, or leaving the county without permission. His court fines started compounding. The police were a constant presence in his life. Records show more than 40 documented contacts he had with local cops.

Malone: “I was able to find times that he was contacted by police that amounted to nothing. Times he was contacted by police that amounted to charges that were dismissed. Those are probably the two biggest bins. And then there's a narrow number where he's contacted by police and actually got in trouble for having, for instance, stolen property or different things, especially when he was homeless living in his car. One of these convictions came from a possession of stolen property charge. He was pulled over in this car. He admits to the officer, I'm living in this car. These are all my possessions. And they start going through it like, ‘Well, what's that? What's that?’ And some of the property that was in there turned out to be have been reported stolen.  

Plog: They kept pulling him over.

Malone: “Broken tail light. The paint on the fender of his car didn't match the rest of the car. A cracked windshield. Once for being out late at night with other Black men. He worked as a landscaper at times, an odd job. So he would be out at like 4:30, 5:00 in the morning heading to an early job and, you know, he's seen in the, quote unquote, wrong neighborhood at the wrong time and he's getting pulled over.”

Plog: As this was all happening though, Manny was showing up in court. He was listening and responding to the people in charge. He was doing what he could to navigate all these systems that can easily overwhelm someone’s life.

Malone: “He was willing to not really parse stuff. He would talk fairly honestly, I think, with these folks even about some unflattering mistakes that he had made and it was almost like the only time he really gets to show up and have a say in any of this.” 

Archival (courtroom recording): “Hopefully, during this sanction time, Mr. Ellis grows to understand the importance of not just talking about making changes but actually starts taking the steps toward living a drug free lifestyle, re-obtaining a job, and mostly importantly getting involved with pro-social friends within the community.”

Plog: The recordings of these hearings are brief, most don’t even last 5 minutes. Manny would sometimes plead guilty. Sometimes, he would answer a few questions.

Archival (courtroom recording): “Why didn’t you report?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): I just had a newborn daughter on the 24th…well let me see, let me get the date right. My daughter was born on the 22nd of September. I have a heart condition called pericarditis. And with this heart condition I’m prone to getting walking pneumonia and with having a newborn daughter, I figured in my head, I don’t want to give her anything that’s going to hinder her growth or inebriate her in any form or fashion. So I chose to go with my better judgment and go to the hospital. They found I had an upper respiratory infection and that I could pass something on to my daughter…

Archival (courtroom recording): “So you were feeling sick?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Yes, ma’am.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “You have all these violations in 2015 and 2016.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Haven't had a violation since this year.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “Did you go to prison? Or jail?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Yes. I went to prison for four months because I was deferred through mental health court…” 

Archival (courtroom recording): “Oh, I see.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “…And I messed up at the very end.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “And then when did you get out of prison?”  

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “October of 2017.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “So October of 2017. So you haven't had a violation from October of 2017, so for a year?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Yes, ma'am.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “I see. Okay. So are you in mental health now? Are you going to treatment?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I’m going to Greater Lakes. I go to Greater Lakes once a week to talk to them.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “Okay and that’s your mental health provider…”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “That’s it. That’s all I do.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “Okay. And then are you on medication?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I, actually on Thursday, I have an appointment to get back on medication again.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “So you haven’t been taking medication for how long?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Since…September of 2017, 16?”

Archival (courtroom recording): “But you think you need medication?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Absolutely.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “Okay.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I know I do.”

Plog: Manny’s treatment for mental health had been spotty at best. Once he finally sought more consistent care, he was battling addiction at the same time.

Malone: “Really the flash point in Manuel Ellis' life was drugs. So when he was able to avoid illegal narcotics, he seemed to be doing better. And also, once he got on prescribed medication to cope with his mental illness, he seemed to be doing better.” 

Plog: But taking medication while he was in recovery was complicated. Monèt says he couldn’t take ADHD meds, for example, to avoid getting hooked on them.

Manny was still helping take care of his family. But, that was sometimes hard to manage with all the legal hoops he had to jump through. Once, he skipped out on his probation officer who was having him arrested for a violation of his release. He explained to the hearing officer why he was in a hurry to leave. Monèt’s kids were with him.

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I look after my sister's kids, and the reason why I left was because they were in the car. I understand the totality of my admission and what I did was wrong. But at the same time, towards the end of my tenure with Department of Corrections, I have remained in compliance for the most part. I haven’t had a dirty UA in I don't know how long. I haven’t went on warrant in I don't know how long and I have, you know, I mean, I may have been a little bit indolent or complacent in my recovery towards the end, but for the most part, I have a good head on my shoulders.” 

Archival (courtroom recording): “... now put yourself in a situation where you might be cuffed up and hauled off right?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I always report. I do. And I haven’t gone on warrant in a very long time. And it was a decision I had to make because I didn’t want my nephews and my nieces to seeing me…”

Archival (courtroom recording):  “Well you’re in a hard spot there. You are. Because bringing them with, there’s always the possibility of. And so. It’s probably not a good thing to bring ‘em, but if you don’t have any other choice, what choice do you have?”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Correct.” 

Archival (courtroom recording): “Let’s hear on these things first. And then I’ll hear everything else that’s going on in your life. I just needed to hear anything that's directly related to the allegation. So you did leave the Tacoma CJC? 

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “Yes, I left because I had the kids in the car.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “All right. And you had consumed meth and cocaine?”  

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “No, I just consumed meth, I didn’t use any cocaine.”

Archival (courtroom recording): “Okay. And then there was a failing to pay legal financial obligations since on or about 10-23.”

Archival (Manny Ellis in court): “I just started working. I just started working.” 

Archival (courtroom recording): “Okay. I’ll go ahead and accept your guilty plea and our findings of guilt.  

Archival (courtroom recording):  “Okay. I tell you what I'm going to do. You’re going to do 17 days. That’ll get you out on Monday.”

Plog: So Manny was in and out of jail, in and out of treatment, in and out of court, making it hard to hold down a job, or find stable housing. But he was trying. Records show Manny got treatment for his mental health from a bunch of different places. People in charge noted he was respectful with a supportive family to lean on. Still, his mental illness was a constant barrier. It was cited over and over again in records we reviewed. It seemed the only way he could get out of this cycle was to find consistent treatment that worked. But mental health care in Washington State and Pierce County doesn’t have even close to enough resources to meet the demand.

Malone: “Just imagine that you've been starving as he was for mental health care. And you’re waiting, you’re waiting an exceedingly long time to eat. Then you get out, on your way, you march straight down to the restaurant and the sign says, ‘Closed.’

Plog: Through all of this, Manny found comfort by being around nieces and nephews. And two kids that he considered his own, a boy and a girl.

Carter-Mixon: “He was like Mr. Dad. So when the mom would go to work like that was, he was, like, taking care of her all day.” 

Carter: “To watch him as a father was really fun. And Manny was a loving uncle. These guys loved him to death. That was Uncle Manny. He put them on the arm and just do all kinds of silly. He was like the funny uncle.” 

Carter-Mixon: “He would get my boys and they would go to like to the movies. They would go play basketball. He was trying to, you know, like build a relationship with them because he really like he loved kids and he really wanted to be like a good father.”  

Carter: “His daughter had been removed from Tacoma as she moved over to Spokane, that really hurt him. So, it was a trigger for him.”

Plog: In September 2019, after Manny’s daughter moved away, Monèt says his mental health took a dive. That’s when he was arrested for the last time. By then, he owed more than $4,000 in court fees and fines.

Malone: “The wheels were really coming off for him. And he was struggling with keeping his addiction under control. And so he shows up one night at an A&W restaurant, you know, nude high and tries to rob the place. It doesn't go well. The clerk beats him up and then he runs away and the police tase him and arrest him. And it was the incident that put him on the path to living in a sober living home. And he was on bail in that incident at the time of his death.” 

Plog: Cedric Armstrong was Manny’s landlord at that sober home.

Cedric Armstrong: “I met Manny at a meeting, and during these meetings I often let the people know that we have rooms for rent. And someone mentioned it to him, and he saw me outside. He came up to me and said ‘Hey, man, I know you don't know me from Adam, but, uh, I need some help.” And I started asking questions and I said, ‘Where are you staying?’ He said, ‘Well, I'm homeless right now and I don't have a job.’ And he started rambling, trying to make his case for why he should have housing or why I should give him a chance. And I was cutting him off saying, ‘The spot is yours.’ And he just broke down in tears. And this brings tears to my eyes because to see this guy with this physique like that of a man break down and say that a stranger would put his trust in him and that we'd give him a chance. And he said that there must be a God.

Plog: Manny moved in with Cedric and his wife, Kimberly Mays the day before Halloween in 2019, a month after he was arrested. There were a few rules. He had to stay sober and he had to go to church once a week. He asked his landlords if he could go with them. Cedric and Kimberly attend Last Day Ministries in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

Armstrong: “He was all in. And the first time we walked up the church, he saw that drumset and he says, ‘Hey, man, I haven't played drums in a long time.’ And I was a drummer too. And I was like, I said, ‘Go ahead!’ And he hopped on those drums and oh, my God, it was like watching magic happen in front of you, like a kid that had found a lost toy. And he it just lit up his whole persona of who he was.”

Plog: Manny grew up going to church with his family. But this place was different. A sign on the door reads: “The church where everybody is somebody.”

Carter-Mixon: “You know what I mean, they're not that type of church, you know, like they weren't… I don't know how to explain it. They're just not that type of church where it's like they may say, ‘Come as you are,’ but they're judging you. The church was filled with a bunch of sinners, like everyone was high on something, used to be high on something, was a prostitute, a pimp, drug dealer, whatever, you name it. And no one cared. Having that sense of belonging, he got like a second family and like a second chance at having that.

Plog: That high, the pure happiness Manny had been chasing his entire adult life, Monèt says he found it every night he walked through those church doors. He had made it somewhere that really felt like home. Where he could be his full self. Where he rediscovered music. Where he found his fellowship with God.

Pastor Odell Williams remembers the day Manny pulled a deacon into a back room, and asked to be saved.

Odell Williams: “And he just came out and there's just something about when you can just look at somebody and their face is radiant. He just felt more at peace. And that was the thing that really stood out. Oftentimes, you can look at people's face and it just seems like there's a lot of turmoil that's going on. And this particular Wednesday, when he came out from that room, he was just that there was a radiance about his face that was that was peaceful. Both had at that time had professed that he accepted the Lord of his life.” 

Carter-Mixon: “He was like doing Bible study,  he was doing men's group, and then he was doing like the choir rehearsals because he was, he played the drums for the church. And that was like at least like 3 to 4 times a week.” 

Williams: “He was one of the most engaged and aggressive beaters. I mean, he was just really engaged, ‘Hold up, Brother Manny, slow that down a little bit.’ I mean, he was just really he had more chops and licks and… And I talked to him once, ‘Hey brother, sometimes less can be more.’ He had a lot of skills and he was really dumping a lot of skills into some songs that don’t necessarily need all those flavors but he was really good at what he did.” 

Plog: Pastor Williams got to know Manny best during men’s fellowship every month.

Williams: “He looked forward to coming to those and he was, at this point where Manny was, he was excited about coming. I saw that there was hope. And this is what I saw in his behalf, the walls beginning to come down.

Plog: For the first time in his life, Manny was talking about plans for the future. He dreamed about starting his own business along with his sister, a place where he could give people like him a chance to start over. They talked about moving across the state together, where he would help take care of Monèt’s kids while she went to law school.

Manny still had the fallout from his arrest hanging over him, but things seemed to be going well. He had a roof over his head. He found positive ways to fill his time. He was making goals.

Carter-Mixon: “Sober life is what he would call it. And he wanted to stay sober. He was so calm. You know? But he was also very hopeful. He seemed at peace, though. He seemed like, you know, he was content and he wasn't worried about his life anymore and where it was going. Those thoughts stopped or he stopped speaking about that because he knew where his life was… or so he thought he knew where his life was headed.”

Plog: Manny spent the last night of his life, March 3, 2020, like most nights, at church. He was playing drums during a revival.

Kimberly, one of his landlords, still remembers the sermon that night.

Kimberly Mays: “The word was about life is a vapor. You're here today, gone tomorrow, that it's important that you get your heart right with God before you leave this earth.” 

Cedric Armstrong: “As we were riding home, Manny, this is what Manny said, man, I enjoyed myself so much. I want my mom and my sister to know the God I know who saved me. That's what he said in the car that night on the ride home. And…ah!”

Plog: Around 10 o’clock, Manny called his mom. Monèt was with her, and remembers hearing her brother laughing. He made their mom laugh, too, like always. Marcia says he talked about what he was looking forward to.

Carter: “‘I have made a change. I am giving my life to Christ. I want to be able to be with my children to walk on this road of recovery, to stay sober to…’ And we video chatted. Okay. So I know. I looked at my son. I saw that something that was different about him. Okay. I kept him on the phone. We talked for 15 minutes and then what I said is I should have kept him on the phone another 5 minutes, and maybe those police officers wouldn't have been there.”

Plog: He ended that call the way you say goodbye to your mom.

Archival (Carter-Patterson at NAACP presser): “‘Hey madre. Well remember I love you.’” Those were the last words that I heard my son say to me. ‘I love you mom. I love you mom.’” 

Plog: After that, Manny ate a hamburger, helped fix the WiFi, and asked Cedric for a piece of paper. He drew three crosses at the top and made a to-do list.

Armstrong: “And he had three lines. And it said, uh.. 

Mays: “‘Call court.’”

Armstrong: “Call the courts.”

Armstrong: “‘Call my son.’”

Mays: “And ‘Stay sober.’”

Armstrong: “And ‘Stay sober.

Plog: We found a picture of that list. That last line says “remain” followed by the letters “S, O, and B.” It was like something interrupted him.

Manny never finished that list.

Malone: “Very few, you know, of these police reports that involved him came from someone calling 911. It was generally police saw him somewhere and want to go see what was up with this guy. So there's a word for that, a term, they call them “Terry stops” or officer initiated stops. The stop that ended Manny's life was a Terry stop.”

Plog: Around 11 o’clock, Manny walked to 7-Eleven for a snack. Like he did almost every night. Some medication he was taking made it hard to sleep. The walks helped. Plus, the store wasn’t that far, just over a mile away from home. He wasn’t gone long. Manny was heading back, snacking on some powdered donuts, when Tacoma police officers stopped him at 96th and Ainsworth.

He was just a short walk from home.

Carter-Patterson: If that ever happens. And you have to look at your boy in that casket. It's the worst feeling. The worst that I have ever felt, when I looked at my son. Lifeless. You guys, you just don't know what it feels like. The emptiness, the brokenness. 

Plog: Kneeling over Manny’s grave, washing the tombstone clean, Marcia talked about rewriting the story that police told about her son. It’s March 3rd, exactly two years after they killed him.

Carter-Patterson: It took me all day to get out there. You know that? But I knew I was coming. Nothing could stop me from this day because this is honor to my son, and he deserves it. He deserves for his name to be exonerated because his name was stated that he was a nobody. No one cared about him. But guess what? My son was loved by many.

Kari, my son was taught, don't fuck with the police. And that's why I’m gonna leave this with you, at the very end, my son was saying, ‘Sir. I can't breathe. I can't breathe, sir!’ 

Plog: That righteous anger from Marcia, it didn’t come out until the very end of our time together. Most of what she talked about that day, was finding peace again. As a mom, it’s hard to imagine how she ever found it.

Carter-Patterson: The Bible says train up a child in the way that he should go so that when he's old, he don't depart. Look what happened. My son knew where he needed to go. To the church. The church. 

But my baby Manuel Elijah Ellis was chosen. And his legacy will live on. He lit up the world 

When I used to talk about this, Kari, I used to get mad as everything. I would go crazy talking about it. But God has since calmed my spirit and he's let me know that he's in control. And for me not to fret thyself of evildoers or ‘Don't worry, Marcia. Okay? It's gonna all work out.’ And it will.

On the next episode of The Walk Home. Four police officers had their own journey to 96th & Ainsworth. And so did the city they worked for.

Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.
Mayowa Aina reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. Mayowa started her public radio career at KUOW in Seattle. She's worked at NPR in Washington, D.C. and Alaska Public Media before moving back to her hometown of Tacoma to work at KNKX.
Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.