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Ex-Tacoma officer seeks $47M from city, state for defamation

Defendant Timothy Rankine talks to Matthew Collins and an attorney during the pre-trail motion in the trial of Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, Tacoma, Wash.
Brian Hayes
/
Pool - The News Tribune
Defendant Timothy Rankine during the trial of Tacoma Police Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine in the killing of Manny Ellis at Pierce County Superior Court Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. The officers were acquitted of all charges in December 2023.

One of the former Tacoma police officers acquitted of killing Manny Ellis has taken steps to sue city and state officials, alleging that he was falsely accused of criminal and racist misconduct.

Ellis, who was Black, died in March 2020 after he was beaten, shocked and hogtied by Tacoma police. The medical examiner determined he suffocated but heart disease and a large dose of methamphetamine contributed to his death.

Former officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian American, testified at trial last year that he pressed down on Ellis’ back despite him saying he couldn’t breathe. Rankine was acquitted of manslaughter but says his reputation was destroyed in the process.

In a precursor to a lawsuit, he has filed claims with the city of Tacoma and the Washington state Attorney General’s Office seeking $47 million in damages for him and his wife. The former officer alleges his prosecution was politically motivated and also led to threats against his family.

The city of Tacoma declined to make a statement due to ongoing legal proceedings. A spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rankine agreed to resign from the department in January in exchange for $500,000, after he was cleared under prior policy, which Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore said “failed to serve the best interests of the police department or the community.”

The department reached the same agreement with the former partners who first stopped Ellis, officers Matthew Collins and Christopher “Shane” Burbank. They were acquitted of manslaughter and second-degree murder.

The officers claimed Ellis attacked them, but no one else reported seeing Ellis strike at them. Three eyewitnesses testified that Burbank and Collins were the aggressors. Three other civilian witnesses described the officers as having the upper hand.

One day before reaching a verdict, the jury reported being hung on whether to convict Collins and Burbank of negligent manslaughter, according to court records released after the trial.

One of Rankine’s attorneys, Joan Mell, told KNKX that he wants to return to law enforcement but feels he’s been blackballed.

In April, Burbank briefly worked for the sheriff’s department in neighboring Thurston County but he resigned after one day due to a community uproar.

According to defense attorneys for Collins and Burbank, the former partners were not planning claims similar to Rankine’s.

Ellis’ death remains under review by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations. State officials are also investigating whether to revoke the acquitted officers' certifications. And a federal lawsuit from Ellis’ family remains pending against the city and the officers. The family previously settled with Pierce County, which first investigated Ellis’ death, for $4 million.


Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Corrected: May 21, 2024 at 12:55 PM PDT
This story has been updated to reflect that former Tacoma officer Timothy Rankine is seeking $47 million in damages from the state and city combined, not separately, for him and his wife.
Jared Brown is a Tacoma-based reporter for KNKX covering the intersections of policing, courts and power with a focus on accountability and solutions. He is currently a Poynter Media and Journalism Fellow. You can email him at jbrown@knkx.org.