Tacoma mayor says officers involved in Manuel Ellis' death should be fired, prosecuted

TACOMA -- Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards is calling for the firing of four police officers involved in the restraint and arrest of Manuel Ellis, who died three months ago while in police custody.

"The officers who committed this crime should be fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Woodards said late Thursday after video surfaced showing the final moments of Ellis' life. 

Manuel Ellis

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Ellis died from respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint. The report also noted other contributing factors, including drug toxicity and an underlying heart condition, but ultimately ruled Ellis' death a homicide.

Ellis, 33, was walking in the intersection of 96th Street and South Ainsworth Avenue about 11:30 p.m. on March 3, when four officers noticed him "struggling" in the intersection, Pierce County Sheriff's detective Ed Troyer said.

Troyer said the officers restrained Ellis and handcuffed him after he assaulted them, but maintained they did not use excessive force or put their knees on his neck. He died a few minutes after paramedics were called to the scene.

Mayor Woodards said video that surfaced on Twitter yesterday tells a different story.


The autopsy report for Ellis was released this week amid global protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who also died while being restrained by police. The officers involved in his death have been fired and charged in connection with Floyd's death.

The four officers involved in Ellis' death have been placed on administrative leave.

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said the department is "committed to the investigative process and the integrity of the findings."

"We have fully cooperated and have been transparent with the current ongoing, independent investigation and will continue to do so for any additional investigations. Our hope is that any investigations bring with them answers for everyone involved.

"I would also like to recognize the compassion and empathy our community has shown during this difficult time. We hear your anger, frustrations and hopes. I want you to know we continue to be committed to engaging with you on topics of safety, community policing and race, so that all people feel safe in Tacoma."

Ellis' family held a press conference Thursday outside Pierce County Superior Court. The family and their attorney, James Bible, are calling for the state Attorney General's Office to conduct an independent investigation. The Pierce County Sheriff's Office is the agency tasked with investigating the officers' conduct, but Bible 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 Tacoma Police Union offered a harsh rebuke to Woodards' calls for the officers to be fired and charged.

"This is not a time to sacrifice dedicated public servants at the altar of public sentiment, especially when that sentiment is almost wholly fueled by the uninformed anger of a theatrical politician," the union said in a prepared statement. 

Ellis' 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. Those were the last words he spoke.

"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.

The Tacoma City Council is holding a special meeting Friday afternoon to discuss whether to request an independent state investigation into Ellis' death.