In a recent verdict that echoes the echoes of George Floyd’s tragic death, three police officers in Washington state have been found not guilty in the 2020 killing of 33-year-old Black man Manuel Ellis. Christopher Burbank, 38, and Matthew Collins, 40, were acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges, while Timothy Rankine, 34, was cleared of manslaughter following a 10-week trial.
Ellis died in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, on March 3, 2020. The trial presented footage showing the officers putting the unarmed Ellis in a chokehold, deploying a stun gun, and pinning him to the ground. Despite Ellis’s pleas of “Can’t breathe, sir, can’t breathe,” the officers were exonerated.
The defense argued that Ellis died from a lethal dose of methamphetamine and an existing heart condition, attributing his demise to kicking a police car door. Prosecution witnesses contended that the officers were the aggressors, initiating an unprovoked effort to subdue Ellis.
Matthew Ericksen, representing the Ellis family, expressed concern that the defense unfairly portrayed Ellis, delving into his past arrests to prejudice the jury. Collins’ lawyer, Casey Arbenz, hailed the verdict as a “huge sigh of relief,” asserting that the officers “should never have been charged.” The Tacoma Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into the officers’ conduct.
Manuel Ellis’s death occurred three months before George Floyd’s murder, catalyzing protests worldwide demanding police accountability and racial justice.