TACOMA, Wash. - The family of a Black man who died in Tacoma police custody announced Friday they plan to sue the police department for $30 million for his death.
Seattle lawyer James Bible, who represents Manuel Ellis’ family in the legal action, announced the filing of a tort claim against Tacoma — a precursor to a lawsuit — outside Tacoma City Hall with Ellis’ mother and other family members, The Seattle Times reported.
Ellis died in handcuffs on March 3 from lack of oxygen caused by being restrained, which the Pierce County Medical Examiner determined was a homicide. His final words, "I can’t breathe, sir!" were captured by a home security camera, and vaulted Ellis’ name into the national movement calling for an overhaul of policing because of its unequal treatment of Black people.
Seattle lawyer James Bible, who represents Ellis’ family in the legal action, announced the filing of a tort claim against Tacoma — a precursor to a lawsuit —outside Tacoma City Hall with Ellis’ mother and other family members.
"The Tacoma Police Department did everything it could to hide information. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department did everything they could to back the Tacoma Police Department," Bible said. "They created a false narrative in relation to what happened to Manny Ellis on that night."
Gov. Jay Inslee in June took the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department off the investigation into Ellis’ death, citing conflict of interest, and moved it to the Washington State Patrol and attorney general’s office to determine if the officers involved will face criminal charges. The night before that decision, the Sheriff’s Department first acknowledged that one of its deputies was at the scene of Ellis’ death and may have participated in restraining him.
In a statement Friday, Tacoma Mayor and City Manager Elizabeth Pauli said they understand the frustration that the family expressed and share their desire for a thorough independent investigation that is completed as swiftly as possible.
"We cannot begin to fathom the deep pain of the Ellis family," their statement said. "We join them in their call for a state agency that will provide independent investigations for future cases, and we will continue to advocate for the establishment of this agency."
The mayor and city manager also urged any witnesses or people with evidence and facts that could help in the investigation to come forward and share it with the Washington State Patrol.