In-Custody Death of Black Tacoma Man Manuel Ellis Ruled a Homicide

Manuel Ellis died in police custody in March.
The in-custody death of Manuel Ellis is being investigated.Facebook

Manuel Ellis had asked officers for help, then attacked them, police said.

The in-custody death of a Tacoma man who said "I can't breathe" while in handcuffs has been ruled a homicide, authorities said. Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that he and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards will make sure there is a "full and complete investigation" into the death of 33-year-old Manuel Ellis on March 3. 

Protesters have marched in the Washington city streets, comparing Ellis' death to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officers on Memorial Day.

“We deserve better than this,” said community organizer Nikkita Oliver at a vigil held Wednesday night after autopsy results ruling Ellis' death a homicide became public. “The community is saying we deserve to know the truth.”

In audio of the encounter, Ellis can be heard saying "I can't breathe."

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office determined that Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint. Contributing factors included methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart.

"The harshest of realities is George Floyd is right here in Tacoma, and his name is Manny," attorney James Bible, who is representing Ellis' family, told the Tacoma News Tribune.

According to police, Ellis was extremely agitated when officers encountered him harassing a woman on the street late at night. When asked what he was doing, police said Ellis said he had warrants and wanted to talk to them.

Ellis pounded on their patrol car, then picked up one of the officers "by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground," said Ed Troyer, spokesman of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the incident.

There was a struggle before police got Ellis handcuffed on the ground and officers called for paramedics at 11:25 p.m.

Within a minute of firefighters arriving, Ellis stopped breathing and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

His cause of death was initially listed as pending while medical examiners ran toxicology tests. The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation's outcome, authorities said.

No charges have been filed.