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Pierce County agrees to $4M settlement with Manuel Ellis' family, pending council vote

Parker Miles Blohm
Attorney James Bible, bottom right, and the family of the late Manuel Ellis are seen at a press conference in June 2020.
Updated: March 22, 2022 at 4:19 PM PDT
Pierce County’s settlement with the family of Manuel Ellis is official. The Pierce County Council approved the agreement for $4,010,000 million Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement, the council said "no monetary value will ever compensate for the loss," adding that it also won't stop the grief experienced by Ellis' family or the community.

"With the adoption of this settlement, Council is ending Pierce County’s involvement with the lawsuit," the statement reads.

"Council hopes our community will continue to heal, move forward stronger, and remain committed to making Pierce County a safe, just place for all."

Pierce County has agreed to a settlement with the family of Manuel Ellis, who was killed by Tacoma police in 2020, KNKX confirmed today. The proposed settlement of just over $4 million will be on Tuesday's agenda for a county council vote.

Ellis was walking home from a convenience store on the night of March 3, 2020, when he was encountered by two Tacoma police officers. They got into an altercation that left Ellis dead on a street corner along the border of South Tacoma and unincorporated Pierce County.

Those officers initially said Ellis was the aggressor who attacked their vehicle. But later, witness accounts and videos emerged that contradicted that account.

Those witness accounts were used by the attorney general to charge Tacoma police officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank with second-degree murder and officer Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter. They have all pleaded not guilty and are out on bail and still employed with the department, pending an internal investigation that's ongoing.

Chief Avery Moore, who joined the department in January,recently told KNKX that he had not reviewed the pending internal investigation documents or made a decision if they will keep their jobs. The criminal trial is scheduled for later this year.

Pierce County is a co-defendant in the lawsuit filed by Ellis' family. Attorney James Biblefirst announced the family's plan for legal action in August 2020. In the months after Ellis' death, it wasrevealed that a Pierce County Sheriff's deputy had been at the scene and "participated in restraining" Ellis.

Besides Pierce County, other defendants in the lawsuit are the City of Tacoma, six Tacoma Police officers, and two Pierce County sheriff's deputies. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

Adam Faber, a spokesperson for the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, confirmed the $4,010,000 settlement to KNKX on Monday afternoon. In a statement released later that day, he said it brings “the county’s involvement with this lawsuit to a close.”

“We recognize that the family and friends of Manuel Ellis are grieving, and we hope this settlement will give them some measure of closure,” Faber wrote in the email.

Monèt Carter-Mixon, 30, is Manuel Ellis' younger sister.
Parker Miles Blohm
Monèt Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister and a representative for his estate.

In their lawsuit, the family accused Pierce County of failing to disclose the sheriff’s deputy’s involvement in Ellis’ death. They also said the county failed to keep the public and the family informed of their investigation as required by state law. And they accused the county of distributing false information in the case.

At the time Sheriff Ed Troyer, who was the spokesperson for the department, made statements that were later contradicted by witnesses and videos.

Pierce County also was the agency in charge of the death investigation. The county medical examiner was the one that ultimately ruled Ellis' death a homicide, and there were delays in getting that information to the family and investigators.

Monèt Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister and a representative for his estate, says Pierce County was “equally responsible” for her brother’s death, for botching an investigation she says they never should have been involved with.

Now, she says, it’s the City of Tacoma’s turn.

“They haven’t put forth any effort into making anything right,” Carter-Mixon told KNKX. “And they need to make this right.”

Carter-Mixon said that includes firing the officers who will be prosecuted later this year. In the meantime, she wants to make it clear that this settlement isn’t a victory for her family.

“There’s no price that you can put on my brother’s life,” she said. “His life was priceless.”

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.