Manuel Ellis murder: 3 Tacoma cops charged with manslaughter, arrest warrants issued

Manuel Ellis, a Black man, was killed while being restrained by Tacoma cops Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank, and Timothy Rankine, who now face murder charges


                            Manuel Ellis murder: 3 Tacoma cops charged with manslaughter, arrest warrants issued
Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank, and Timothy Rankine face criminal charges for the murder of Manuel Ellis in March 2020 (Tacoma Police Department)

TACOMA, WASHINGTON: Tacoma police officer Matthew Collins with his colleague Christopher Burbank have been charged with the second-degree murder of Manuel Ellis, the Black man who died while being restrained by them in 2020. Another officer Timothy Rankine has also been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the case. 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed felony charges against the three police officers related to Ellis's death on Thursday, May 27. He filed the charges in Pierce County Superior Court and warrants have been issued for the arrests of all three officers. 

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Manuel Ellis was killed after Tacoma Police Officers restrained him on March 3, 2020 (GoFundMe)

Who are are the accused?

Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died in handcuffs while being restrained by Tacoma police on March 3. Matthew Collins, 37; Christopher Burbank, 34; and Timothy Rankine, 31, were all relatively new to the Tacoma police department in 2020 when Ellis' death, declared a homicide, occurred. All of them were placed on administrative leave after Ellis' death, and they all returned to work after providing statements on the incident and received an all-clear from a psychologist. 

They had been on the force for five years, four and a half years, and one year and 10 months respectively. All of them were said to possess prior military or law enforcement experience, according to official records. Police Chief Don Ramsdell had described the three as 'dedicated' and 'community-oriented' back in June 2020 when Governor Jay Inslee ordered a new independent investigation.

If convicted, Collins and Burban could face 10-18 years in prison while Rankine stands to face prison time for 6.5 to 8.5 years. The Attorney General's office said the maximum sentence for both offenses is life in prison. 

How did Manuel Ellis die?

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office had found Manuel Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia from physical restraint. Several other contributing factors included methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy. The medical examiner ruled Ellis's death a homicide.

On March 3, two officers encountered Ellis, who was walking home and reportedly harassing a woman at an intersection. The officers confronted Ellis over what he was doing and he reportedly told them he had warrants and wanted to talk to them. Ellis began striking their patrol car and the two officers in the vehicle exited the car.

"He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground," said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. This information is contested by witnesses who said Ellis turned to walk away but the police officers got out of the car and knocked him to the ground on his knees. All witnesses, in this case, have said they did not see Ellis striking the officers at any point during the altercation, according to documents. 

After struggling for a while, police had successfully pinned Ellis to the ground and then went on to call paramedics around 11.25 pm. According to police, Ellis stopped breathing and lost consciousness within a minute of firefighters arriving at the scene. He was pronounced dead at the scene, but the cause of death was listed as pending while medical examiners ran toxicology tests.

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