TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Five weeks into the trial against three Tacoma, Washington, police officers charged in the death of Manny Ellis and prosecutors will build upon their case by questioning one of the man’s lifelong friends as well as a breathing expert in court Tuesday.
On Monday, Cedric Armstrong, the man who ran the sober-living home where Ellis lived, said Ellis was happy earlier on the night he died, adding, “he didn’t seem like he was off in any way.”
Also Monday, a lieutenant with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that his agency failed to find or collect witness cellphone videos before ending their investigation into Ellis’ death.
The videos and witness statements are critical pieces of evidence in the case. They show Ellis with his hands up in a surrender position as the officers shoot a Taser at his chest and wrap an arm around his neck. The officers later told investigators that Ellis attacked them and was violent, something not shown in the videos or seen by witnesses.
The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning in Pierce County Superior Court, when Brandon McClanahan — one of Ellis’ lifelong friends — will testify. Dr. Curtis Veal, the state’s pulmonology expert, is also expected to take the stand.
Ellis died March 3, 2020, after repeatedly telling officers he could not breathe while they applied pressure as he lay prone on the pavement. The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide caused by oxygen deprivation from physical restraint. Lawyers for the officers blame the death on a high level of methamphetamine in Ellis’ system combined with a heart irregularity.
Officers Matthew Collins, 40, Christopher Burbank, 38, and Timothy Rankine, 34, are all on trial for second-degree manslaughter in the case. Collins and Burbank also are charged with second-degree murder. All three have pleaded not guilty, are free on bail and remain on paid leave by the Tacoma Police Department.
Testimony has been tense at times.
Two weeks ago, a forensic pathologist testified that Ellis likely would have lived if he had not been restrained by the officers. Dr. Roger Mitchell, former chief medical examiner for Washington, D.C., affirmed ex-Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark’s ruling that Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died by homicide from oxygen deprivation.
“The fight is what killed him,” Mitchell said while being cross-examined by Burbank’s lawyer Brett Purtzer.
“He killed himself by resisting,” Purtzer snapped back. Audible gasps filled the courtroom gallery. Judge Bryan Chushcoff instructed the jury to disregard Purtzer’s remark.