Manuel Ellis | KNKX

Manuel Ellis

Manuel Ellis, who was killed while in Tacoma police custody March 3. Ellis is remembered as a musician and father whose life was marked by  by pain, struggle, and a search for redemption.
Courtesy of Tacoma Action Collective

Author’s note: As protests against police brutality and racism swept the United States in 2020, the name of a Tacoma man was sometimes shouted alongside George Floyd's and Breonna Taylor's. Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma police on March 3 after he encountered officers on a dark residential street. For protesters, Ellis' death was part of a pattern of police using inappropriate force against Black people. As KNKX spoke to Ellis' family and friends, other themes emerged as well: the ways in which childhood trauma and mental illness can alter the course of a person's life, and how not everyone has the same access to treatment. This story offers a glimpse into the life of someone who became one of 2020's unfortunate symbols. (This story originally aired June 12, 2020.)

Family and friends of Manuel Ellis gathered for a Father's Day celebration this summer in honor of the late South Tacoma man, who was killed in police custody in March.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The Washington State Patrol has finished its investigation into the killing of Manuel Ellis, who died in March while being restrained by Tacoma police officers.

Community members gathered in June for a celebration of life for Manuel Ellis, who was killed by Tacoma police in March. In this photo, one of the attendees hangs a flyer with Ellis’ image that says “Happy Father’s Day Manny.”
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

More than six months have passed since 33-year-old Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma police on a residential street in March. He died after telling officers he couldn't breathe. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide. 

Since then, Ellis' death has sparked protests, vigils, efforts to reform statewide police-accountability laws, and legal action against the City of Tacoma. Meanwhile, the state patrol is investigating whether any of the four Tacoma officers who were at the scene should be charged with crimes. Ellis became a local example of the inequities people around the country were protesting after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. 

Family and friends of Manuel Ellis gathered Friday to celebrate what would have been Ellis' 34th birthday. Ellis was killed by Tacoma police nearly six months ago.
Melissa Ponder

Friday would have been Manuel Ellis’ 34th birthday. 

“I was there when he was born,” Regina Ellis Burnett said of her nephew. “Unfortunately, I was not there when his life was taken. We’re here to celebrate.”

Attorney James Bible, bottom right, and the family of the late Manuel Ellis are seen at a press conference in June. On Friday, Bible announced the family's plan to seek $30 million in damages in a lawsuit against the city of Tacoma.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX (file)

Nearly six months after Manuel Ellis was killed by Tacoma police, his family says they plan to seek $30 million in damages in a lawsuit against the city.

The family's attorney, James Bible, said he planned to file a precursor to a lawsuit known as a tort claim with the city on Friday afternoon. 

The announcement came on what would have been Ellis' 34th birthday. 

Protesters gather in Tacoma on June 2 to demand justice for Bennie Branch, who was shot and killed by Tacoma police in September 2019.
Ashley Gross / KNKX

Two cases in which police in Pierce County shot and killed Black men in their 20s are getting renewed attention following weeks of protest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Bennie Branch, 24, and Said Joquin, 26, were shot and killed in separate incidents eight months apart. 

Katrina Johnson, cousin to the late Charleena Lyles, spoke at a rally on June 18, 2020, the three-year anniversary of Lyles' death.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Katrina Johnson had prepared for a career in nursing. Then Seattle police shot and killed her cousin, Charleena Lyles, on June 18, 2017.

"From that day, it's just been a constant fight trying to understand and come to terms with what happened," said Johnson, a Tacoma resident.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office is reviewing at least 30 cases in which police killed or wounded people in 2020, amid concerns law enforcement agencies are not following new rules governing how they hold each other accountable in cases of deadly force.

Monet Carter-Mixon (center), sister of Manuel Ellis, joined Ellis' family and friends Sunday for a balloon release celebrating the late father of two, who was killed March 3 in Tacoma police custody.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

“You are loved. You are missed. You are remembered.”

Those were the words printed on dozens of balloons that were released into the air in downtown Tacoma on Father’s Day, during an event honoring Manuel Ellis.  

Manuel Ellis
Courtesy of Tacoma Action Collective

The Washington State Patrol will take over an investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who was killed in Tacoma police custody in March after telling an officer, "I can't breathe, sir."

Gov. Jay Inslee made the announcement in a written statement Wednesday afternoon.

Manuel Ellis, who was killed while in Tacoma police custody March 3. Ellis is remembered as a musician and father whose life was marked by  by pain, struggle, and a search for redemption.
Courtesy of Tacoma Action Collective

A newly released video taken by a witness appears to show a Tacoma police officer wrap his arm around Manuel Ellis' neck and then press a knee into Ellis' body.

The video reveals new details of the struggle that preceded Ellis' death on a South Tacoma street the night of March 3. The case has gotten increasing attention and scrutiny amid nationwide protests decrying police brutality against Black people.

A person kneels with their fist in the air at a June 5, 2020, demonstration against police brutality in Tacoma
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Now that Gov. Jay Inslee has said he will ensure an independent investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards is outlining her hopes for what that will look like.

"That we get a fair, independent, clean investigation," Woodards told KNKX. "That we trust the agency who’s doing it, we trust that they can do it fairly, and we trust that they can get it done in a reasonable amount of time. "

Ellis died in March after being restrained by Tacoma police officers. His death has been ruled a homicide.

The family of Manuel Ellis and their attorney, James Bible, address reporters during a news conference Tuesday in Tacoma. They renewed calls for the state to lead an independent investigation into Ellis' killing on March 3.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Gov. Jay Inslee says he’s convinced the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department shouldn’t lead the investigation into the killing of Manuel Ellis. He announced Wednesday that the state is reviewing how the investigation should proceed, including who will make charging decisions.  

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

UPDATE, June 10: Gov. Jay Inslee says he's convinced the Pierce County Sheriff's Department can't lead the investigation into Manuel Ellis' death. The governor is working with Attorney General Bob Ferguson to decide how the investigation will proceed. Read the latest developments here

The family of Manuel Ellis has released a new video from the night Ellis was killed in police custody. Their attorney says it shows a man "begging for his life." 

A friend of Manuel Ellis, who died in the custody of Tacoma police in March, holds a sign demanding justice after Ellis' death was ruled a homicide. Four officers involved are now on leave.
Will James / KNKX

Nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis are hitting home especially hard in Tacoma, after the Pierce County medical examiner ruled the death of Manuel Ellis a homicide. In March, Ellis died in handcuffs while Tacoma police restrained him. The cause of death was respiratory arrest. 

Jamika Scott is an organizer who has worked with Ellis' family to bring attention to his death. 

Hundreds gathered at a vigil Wednesday night to remember Manuel Ellis, who died March 3 in the custody of Tacoma police officers. His death has been ruled a homicide by the Pierce County medical examiner, and the officers have been placed on leave.
Joel Schomberg/Longhouse Media

Marcia Carter says she cried for two months and 10 days, waiting for answers about the death of her son, Manuel Ellis. This week, she got some. But now the family is left with even more questions. 

“We want answers,” Carter said Thursday, outside the Pierce County Superior Court, flanked by representatives from the regional chapter of the NAACP and the activist group Tacoma Action Collective. “No more talking.” 

Four Tacoma police officers were placed on administrative leave Wednesday, after a report from the Pierce County medical examiner became public. It ruled Ellis’ death a homicide, caused by a lack of oxygen due to physical restraint. Ellis died in police custody during an arrest in South Tacoma on March 3.