'I cried every day:' Family of Tacoma man who died in police custody calls for transparency

TACOMA -- A grieving family in Tacoma is responding to a medical examiner's conclusion that their loved one’s death was a homicide.

Manuel Ellis, 33, died while being restrained by four Tacoma Police officers in March near the intersection of South 96th Street and Ainsworth Avenue South. The medical examiner's autopsy report was released in early June.

Thursday, his family, expressed raw, chilling emotions during a news conference outside of the Pierce County Superior Court. His mother, Marcia Carter, recalled the last conversation she had with Ellis on the phone the night he died.

“‘Well remember, I love you.’ Those were the last words that I heard my son say to me. I love you, mom. I love you, mom. And I can’t hear that ever again,” sobbed Carter.

Ellis is heard saying ‘I can’t breathe,’ in a recording of police radio from that fateful night on March 3rd. Those were the last words he spoke. Now three months later, medical examiners are deeming his death a homicide.

“Now it is up to the people to force that level of accountability on police departments in Pierce County, on police departments in Tacoma because we need justice—not just in some places, we need justice everywhere,” said James Bible, the family’s attorney.

“They all need to be held accountable, specifically those two police officers that murdered my brother. Every single officer involved needs to be in a jumpsuit,” said Monet Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office is the investigating agency on this case. County detectives said officers handcuffed Ellis and restrained him on the ground.

"He was having distress in the intersection, they asked him if he was alright and needed help. He walked up to the Tacoma Police Officers and said, I have warrants, I need to talk. As soon as the police officer got out of the car he assaulted one of them and slam dunked him into the ground," said Detective Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office.

“There was no heads on knees. There was no cutting off of circulation. None of that. He was handcuffed he was talking. He was breathing. Then throughout the process, he had trouble breathing and he told people, I can’t breathe. They put him on his side and called for medical aid," said Troyer.

The detective said within minutes after paramedics were called, Ellis died.

Investigators said the only video of that fateful night is from a home security camera, but it doesn’t clearly show what happened. His family’s unwavering dedication since his death is shedding new light on the case.

“If it wasn’t for me and Manny’s friend screaming at the top of our lungs and George Floyd dying, this would have got brushed under the rug,” said Carter-Mixon.

But later Thursday, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said video shows the incident was a homicide and demanded that the four officers be fired.

“Black voices are rarely believed. And this goes back hundreds of years in reference to who gets to testify in court and who doesn’t,” said Bible.

Hundreds of people gathered for a memorial, Wednesday, at the intersection where Ellis died. That same night Mayor Woordards gave an emotional response to the family and public.

“I’m sorry. Our city is sorry, our council is sorry for your loss,” said Woodards.

During her address, Woodards said city leaders did not receive many facts about this case, and assured they are going to dig deep for answers. Carter-Mixon said she finds it hard to believe the city wasn’t aware of the details after three months had gone by.

“And every elected official—if we find out that you knew, you should be replaced immediately. We can’t have people like you representing us. You don’t represent me, you don’t represent my struggle, you don’t represent Tacoma,” said Cater-Mixon.

Bible is calling on the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to start a new investigation. He said he believes the sheriff’s office investigating the Tacoma Police Department’s case is a conflict of interest.

“They work hand in hand, and they share investigative power of the same area and they work with the same Pierce County Prosecutor,” said Bible.

The attorney is also asking for witnesses to come forward with any pictures or video they have for this case. The officers have been placed on administrative leave.

“You killed someone and we’re coming, and we know you killed someone and it’s heart-wrenching. And you should get on your knees and you should apologize to this family, do the right thing and admit what you actually did,” said Bible.

While Ellis’ family continues their fight towards justice, his mother said she’s just longing to hear his voice again.

“As a mother, you can never imagine what it’s like to bury your son. To look down in his eyes. My heart hurt. I cried for two months and 10 days every day, all day,” said Carter.

Ellis is survived by his 18-month-old daughter and 11-year-old son.