(AP) – Tacoma Police Department interim Chief Mike Ake recently said that two officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who pleaded for breath under an officer’s knee, did not violate any policies and can return to work.
Officers Masiyh Ford, 29, and Armando Farinas, 27, have been notified of the exoneration, Ake told the Tacoma City Council in a special meeting, The News Tribune reported.
“This is based upon a thorough review of Internal Affairs investigations which includes the criminal investigations of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Washington State Patrol and Attorney General’s Office. I feel it is an appropriate decision based upon the facts,” Ake said.
Ake said the officers, who have been on leave for over a year, will undergo several weeks of training before returning to the force.
Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, while being restrained by officers at an intersection. The Pierce County medical examiner called Ellis’ death a homicide because of a lack of oxygen caused by restraint, with an enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication as contributing factors.
The death made Ellis’ name synonymous with pleas for justice at Pacific Northwest protests. His final words — “I can’t breathe, sir!” — were captured by a home security camera, in addition to the retort from one of the officers: “Shut the (expletive) up, man.”
Tacoma police Officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are white, have pleaded not guilty to murder. Officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in the case.
Burbank and Collins reported that the encounter happened after they saw Ellis trying to get into occupied cars at a stoplight. Ellis was on his way back from a convenience store.
The officers said Ellis punched the window of their cruiser and attacked them as they got out, according to statements from other officers cited in the charging documents.
But two witnesses have said the police attacked. An officer in the passenger side of a patrol car slammed his door into Ellis, knocking him down, and started beating him, they said.
No charges were filed against Ford and Farinas.
Farinas was investigated by the city for unsatisfactory performance of his duties for placing a spit hood over Ellis’s head. Ake said officers were concerned about possible biohazard exposure due to Ellis spitting near them. Ake said Farinas had no other contact with Ellis.
Ford was investigated for possible use of force violations. Ake said that during the detention of Ellis, Ford took hold of Ellis’s leg.
Once detained, Ake said Ford tried to calm him down and let him know medical aid was coming. “When Mr. Ellis commented that he could not breathe, Officer Ford assisted in rolling him onto his side in a recovery position,” Ake said. “He also was the first officer to alert arriving medical personnel that Mr. Ellis’s condition was deteriorating.
Ellis, of Tacoma, died on the street while being treated by medics, according to authorities.
Leslie Cushman, a civil rights attorney and the citizen sponsor of Initiative 940, which changed police deadly force laws and requires officers to be trained in deescalation techniques, called the decision about the two officers “beyond disappointing,” The Seattle Times reported.
“What did they do following the brutality?” Cushman said of the officers. “Did they report the cover-up? There are no clean hands among the officers present that night.”
An internal investigation involving the three officers facing charges is ongoing.