Pierce County approves over $4M settlement with family of Manuel Ellis

The family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed in police custody in March of 2020, has reached a settlement with the Pierce County Council. 

33-year-old Ellis was put into a chokehold and restrained by several officers while in Tacoma police custody. An investigation later determined he told officers at the scene that he couldn't breathe.

As The Tacoma News-Tribune first reported, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office noted intoxication from methamphetamine and an existing heart condition as contributing factors, but Ellis' death was ultimately ruled a homicide - respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint. 

Three officers were charged in Ellis' death. Officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank are charged with murder and manslaughter, and officer Timothy Rankine was charged with manslaughter. All three officers have plead not guilty. 

RELATED: Man files excessive force claim against 2 Tacoma officers

James Bible, an attorney representing the Ellis Family, said the decision to exonerate the officers is disappointing and shows lack of accountability.

"Manny Ellis was actually hog-tied laying on his stomach. He had repeatedly said that he could not breathe, ‘I can’t breathe, sir.’ He had been met with expletives from officers. The body weight of other officers were actually on top of Manuel Ellis," said Bible in December.

The county voted to settle the suit for $4,010,000. 

The county was involved in a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit with Ellis' family. The city of Tacoma and several law enforcement individuals were named in the initial suit. 

"No monetary value will ever compensate for the loss or heartache Mr. Ellis’ family and loved ones experienced over the last two years. Nor will it stop the Ellis family or community from grieving his death. With the adoption of this settlement, Council is ending Pierce County’s involvement with the lawsuit. 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 communications manager said in a statement. 

James Bible, the Ellis' Family attorney, spoke with FOX 13 News following the county's approval.

"It’s hard to claim that any sort of settlement is justice. It is an acknowledgement that a wrong was done," said Bible.

Bible says the family's focus is not on money, but on the upcoming criminal hearing for the officers charged in Ellis' death.

"The actual prosecution, the officers going in front of a jury and having to answer tough questions, I think will be something that our entire society has demanded and needs in order to be able to move forward at all," he said.

That court hearing is expected to take place in October.

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