Ellis was beaten and killed by police while walking home from a convenience store with a box of doughnuts and bottle of water.
The family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died of oxygen deprivation while being restrained by Tacoma police, has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city’s police department and the Pierce County sheriff.
According to The Seattle Times, the lawsuit was filed by Ellis’s sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, and their mother, Marcia Carter. Lodged in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, the complaint names as defendants both law enforcement agencies as well as the individual officers involved in Ellis’s death. It also targets several other officers who were not indicted in the killing, but who participated or otherwise contributed to Ellis’s restraint.
The Seattle Times notes that all of the officers remain employed with their respective departments and have been placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation.
Ellis, adds CBS News, died on 3 March 2020, several weeks before George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police officers.
Ellis was stopped by Tacoma police while walking home from a convenience store, carrying little other than a box of doughnuts and a bottle of water.
“He was deemed suspicious by the officers, and they beat, tased, choked, and hogtied him as a result of their false perceptions of Manuel Ellis that are irretrievably linked to his race,” the lawsuit alleges.
As he was being restrained, Ellis repeatedly told officers that he could not breathe.
In response, one officer told him to “shut the [expletive] up.”
Ellis family attorney James Bible told a local CBS affiliate, KIRO-TV, that Manuel’s relatives were initially unaware of how many officers were involved in Ellis’s death. Bible also said that eyewitness videos contradict the officers’ incident reports.
“There was a remarkable coverup by the city of Tacoma and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office,” Bible said.
The Times observes that other law enforcement officials, including Pierce County Ed Troyer—then the office’s spokesman–appear to have to have made false or otherwise misleading statements. Troyer, for instance, falsely claimed that Ellis was never choked or shocked with a stun gun.
“Mr. Troyer’s false statements were intended to pacify community outrage and help conceal the reality of what had happened,” the lawsuit states.
The Pierce County medical examiner later determined that Ellis’s death was a homicide; Ellis was deprived of oxygen as a consequence of the officers’ retraining techniques, with pre-existing medical conditions and methamphetamine use contributing to his death.
Ellis’s family is now seeking “immense” damages. While the lawsuit does not specify any figure, the plaintiffs had previously indicated they would pursue up to $30 million in recompense.