A black man who called out “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, was killed as a result of oxygen deprivation and the physical restraint that was used on him, according to details of a medical examiner’s report released Wednesday.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the death of the man, Manuel Ellis, 33, was a homicide. Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department were in the process of preparing a report about the March death, which occurred shortly after an arrest by officers from the Tacoma Police Department, said the sheriff’s spokesman, Ed Troyer.
“The information is all being put together,” Troyer said. “We expect to present it to the prosecutor at the end of this week or early next week.”
Ellis’s sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, called for action to bring accountability in the death and further scrutiny of both the Police Department’s practices and how the investigation into his death has been handled.
“There’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” Carter-Mixon said.
Ellis died from respiratory arrest, hypoxia, and physical restraint, according to the medical examiner’s office. The report listed methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as contributing factors.
Police officers encountered Ellis, a musician and father of two from Tacoma, on the night of March 3 as they were stopped at an intersection. They saw him banging on the window of another vehicle, Troyer said.
Ellis approached the officers, Troyer said, and then threw an officer to the ground when the officer got out of the vehicle. The two officers and two backup officers who joined — two of them white, one black and one Asian — handcuffed him.
“Mr. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combative,” the Tacoma Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.
Troyer said he did not know all the details of the restraint the officers used — they were not wearing body cameras — but said he did not believe they used a chokehold or a knee on Ellis’ neck. They rolled him on his side after he called out, “I can’t breathe.”
“The main reason why he was restrained was so he wouldn’t hurt himself or them,” Troyer said. “As soon as he said he couldn’t breathe, they requested medical aid.”
Troyer said the call for aid came four minutes after the officers encountered Ellis.
Ellis was still breathing when medical personnel arrived, Troyer said. He was removed from handcuffs while personnel worked on him for about 40 minutes, Troyer said. He was then pronounced dead.
Family members said Ellis was the father of an 11-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. He was a talented musician at his church. Carter-Mixon said Ellis was like a father figure to her boys, coaching them on things like how handle themselves to keep safe in a world of racial injustices.
“My heart literally hurts,” she said. “It’s painful. My brother was my best friend.”
On Wednesday night, she and others held a vigil in Tacoma.
Brian Giordano, a close friend of Ellis, said that the two usually spoke several times a day and that Ellis had video chatted with him two hours before his death. He had been excited about a church service he had attended and proud of how he had played drums during the service, Giordano recalled.
He said it would be uncharacteristic of Ellis to act in the violent way described by the police.
He was living in a clean-and-sober house and was getting his life back together, he said. “He was always uplifting,” Giordano said. “He was always on the up-and-up about taking care of people.”
The death comes as protests have spread around the nation over the case of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police last week. Minnesota officials have charged all four officers in that case, including Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during the arrest.
Forensics experts who conducted a private autopsy for Floyd’s family concluded that another officer’s knees on Floyd’s back contributed to making it impossible for his lungs to take insufficient air.
Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma said Wednesday that she would take appropriate steps based on the findings of the sheriff’s investigation.
“We will learn the results of that investigation even as our country reels from the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others,” Woodards said.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said the issue was a top priority for him.
“We will be pushing to make sure there is a full and complete investigation of that incident,” Inslee said.
Source: The New York Times.