Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tacoma officers trial: Prosecution rests, attempt to dismiss charges fails and the community rallies

During a rally, Abdul Shahid Muhammad leads supporters of Manny Ellis in a chant in front of the City-County Building in Tacoma where the trial for three Tacoma police officers charged with the murder of Manny Ellis is being held in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Muhammad yelled out “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!” and “Say his name, Manny!” To which the crowd replied, “Ellis!”
Ellen M. Banner
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
During a rally, Abdul Shahid Muhammad leads supporters of Manny Ellis in a chant in front of the City-County Building in Tacoma where the trial for three Tacoma police officers charged with the murder of Manny Ellis is being held in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Muhammad yelled out “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!” and “Say his name, Manny!” To which the crowd replied, “Ellis!”

Prosecutors from the Washington state Attorney General’s Office rested their case on Wednesday against the Tacoma police officers charged with killing Manuel "Manny" Ellis.

Over nearly six weeks the prosecution called about two dozen witnesses including four doctors and a police use of force expert. Attorneys for Officers Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine argued the witnesses’ testimony didn’t prove the state’s case and motioned to dismiss their murder and manslaughter charges.

Collins and Burbank's attorneys said prosecutors didn't show that officers stopped Ellis for no reason, or that them choking and Tasering Ellis directly caused his death. Rankine's attorneys argued prosecutors didn’t show the officer was holding Ellis face down long enough to have suffocated him.

Defense attorney Jared Ausserer explains to Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff why he thinks the case against his client should be dismissed in Pierce County Superior Court, Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with Manuel Ellis' death.
Ellen M. Banner
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
Defense attorney Jared Ausserer explains to Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff why he thinks the case against his client should be dismissed in Pierce County Superior Court, Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with Manuel Ellis' death.

Special prosecutor Patty Eakes said Rankine's own statements prove his recklessness and that witness testimony suggests Burbank and Collins lied about Ellis attacking them, setting off the chain of events that killed him.

"The end result of the unlawful imprisonment and the assaults on the ground and the restraint of Mr. Ellis into a hogtie and then the weight on his back. That's how they left him. And that's how he died," she said.

Judge Bryan Chushcoff ruled against dismissing the case and said the jury should weigh the evidence.

First community rally held since start of trial

Meanwhile, some 30 people rallied outside the Pierce County Superior Courthouse Wednesday. The rally was organized by a coalition of nine different civil rights and social justice organizations from across Tacoma including Tacoma Ceasefire, the Black Panther Party, the Black Collective, and the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance.

“When we came to the table, the very first thing that we said was that our ideologies are not relevant to this process,” said Bishop Lawrence White with the Alliance. “The sole purpose is justice to the Ellis family.”

This is the first public demonstration since the trial started in September. Throughout the trial, Tacoma Action Collective and other supporters of the family have implored the public to pay attention to the trial proceedings by watching the livestream or attending in person.

White said many people felt discouraged from going to the courthouse because of the sign-up system the court administration put in place. Anyone who wants to attend in-person must reserve a seat online, available tickets are released noon the day before a trial day. Thirty-six seats are available.

White said it’s important to have a physical presence in the courtroom to support the family, and so people can understand for themselves how the process works and how decisions are made.

“[That will] make sure that as we go forward, whatever forward is going to look like, we're going forward with facts and evidence."

The rally lasted about four hours. Organizers provided chips, sandwiches, and water. Several families of people who have died from police violence showed up. Rallygoers held signs, chanted, and listened to some speeches.

During a rally, Reverend Gregory Christopher (just left of center at left, wearing a cross) leads supporters of Manny Ellis in a prayer in front of the City-County Building in Tacoma where the trial for three Tacoma police officers charged with the death of Manny Ellis is being held in Pierce County Superior Court Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged with his death.
Ellen M. Banner
/
Pool Photo - The Seattle Times
During a rally, Reverend Gregory Christopher (left of center, wearing a cross) leads supporters of Manny Ellis in a prayer in front of the City-County Building in Tacoma where the trial for three Tacoma police officers charged with Ellis' death is being held on Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023, in Tacoma, Wash.

Jaylon Camacho, 20, said he joined the rally because he feels unsafe and vulnerable in the city and worries for his three-year-old daughter.

"I'm scared of having more kids. I don't want to bring them into a world where they will be discriminated against or if they're having a bad day, they're going to be hurt by the police or if they have a louder voice they're going to be seen as an aggressive person or they're a bigger person they're going to be seen as somebody who's superhuman. So I hope being out here will at least show somebody, the government, the police officers, that we want change. Not just for us but for our children."

Blanche Coney, 70, has lived in Tacoma her whole life. She said she wanted to support the family and advocate for accountability through the process.

"I want to stand out here in support of justice being served for our community. I hope it will not only show the family that they have community support, but I hope that it will speak to our justice system - to be fair, and to not be biased when it comes to the police department.”

Abdul Shahid Muhammed with Tacoma Ceasefire said he’s been living in Tacoma for 56 years. He said the community’s voice is stronger than just one or two people.

“The community needs to get involved. We are underrepresented as Black people, and we need to get involved. You're not doing no good in the house, come out and represent.”

Organizers plan to gather in front of the courthouse every Wednesday from noon - 4 p.m.

Court will resume Monday and the defense will start calling witnesses next week. Follow KNKX's trial coverage at knkx.org/tpdtrial.

Corrected: November 9, 2023 at 9:18 AM PST
One of the organizations participating in the rally is the Black Panther Party, not the New Black Panther Party.
Jared Brown was a Poynter Media and Journalism Fellow based at KNKX covering the intersections of policing, courts and power with a focus on accountability and solutions.
Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing maina@knkx.org.