Politicians Fuming After Three Cops in Washington State Case Are Exonerated

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The case was meant to be George Floyd 2.0. But after a two-month-long trial, Tacoma jurors, in Washington, made a different choice this week, acquitting the three police officers who were accused of killing a man. Manuel (Manny) Ellis, died from a fatal heart attack in police custody on March 20, 2020. The jury would discover during a 10-week trial that Ellis had a troubled mind, was addicted to meth, and was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The fate of many political careers depended on whether the police officers were found guilty in the death of Ellis. The mayor demanded that the officers be fired immediately. A leader in the community demanded that the police be prosecuted. She used this incident to gain election to the City Council. After the Pierce County District Attorney failed to file charges against the police, Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee instructed the state attorney to take the case. Attorney General Bob Ferguson – who is running for governor – threw the books at three officers who were on the scene. Officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, and Timothy Rankine were all charged with second-degree homicide and first-degree homicide. Jurors were given a list of lesser charges and a choice to convict the officers. The “diverse jury” of seven men and five women cleared the officers from all charges.

The emotional video and images captured by a Ring camera that night, three years ago, showed police officers grabbing Ellis. Ellis told the officers: “I can’t breathe sir.” The cellphone video did not show the whole story. Ellis was agitated, and combative and grabbed one of the officers. The cameras weren’t running at the start of the encounter so the only images in the media were of officers trying to arrest an “agitated” Ellis. Ellis was tased and then hogtied by the officers. A second officer applied a spit-mask to him.

The AP described the encounter in detail:

Ellis, a 7-11 employee in Tacoma (about 30 miles south of Seattle) was on his way home late one night, March 3, 2020, with doughnuts when he saw a patrol vehicle stopped at a traffic light with Collins and Burbank.

Officers claimed that they had seen Ellis open the door to a car passing at an intersection, and he was aggressive when questioned about it. Collins testified Ellis displayed “superhuman strength” when he lifted him and threw him in the air.

The trial heard testimony from the former Pierce County medical examiner who was fired. He said he thought the officers killed Ellis. A medical expert who testified for the defense claimed that the drug-addicted schizophrenic had an enlarged, agitated heart caused by his drug use.

The community drama had Benjamin Crump overtones. Pierce County settled with the family a civil lawsuit for wrongful death in 2022. This sent a signal to potential jurors, as well as the black community, that the officers were guilty. Ellis’ image was painted on a mural near S. 11th St. & Martin Luther King Way. The words “Justice for Manny” were also included. The mural was used as a meeting place by protesters.

The two-month-long trial was set back by sick jurors, a near-hung jury, battling attorneys who demanded the judge issue sanctions, and two jurors who had to be replaced by alternates during deliberations–forcing them to start deliberations over again. The judge once told the prosecutors that they were in a precarious position because of their courtroom squabbles. The Christmas holiday was approaching.

One defense lawyer estimated that the defense exploited 18 areas of reasonable doubt. “A common theme in his presentation was the fact that the state had no grounds to charge [Officer] Collins with Ellis’ death, and they knew this before they presented their case to the jurors. Jared Ausserer, the defense attorney, accused state witnesses at different times of being hired guns or harboring political agendas. The attorney asked, “How can four different agencies be observing conduct that is a gross departure from what is accepted and disregarding a substantial death risk? It wasn’t. “That’s why they didn’t intervene.”

Mark Conrad told the jury that the state hid important facts in the case. “It is dangerous when a prosecutor does not be forthright about the facts and turns a blind eye to facts that do not fit their narrative.”

Even the most woke Washington jury could see through the con.

The jury also heard of another civil lawsuit for wrongful death against the City of Tacoma. Under cross-examination from defense attorneys, jurors discovered that the cell phones that recorded the violent encounter mysteriously disappeared after the family hired an attorney. As a former prosecutor told a trial-watcher, the cell phones had “mysteriously burned.” The jury didn’t buy it.

Mark Lindquist, the attorney for the State of California, said that he believed the pivotal moment in the trial came when “one prosecution witness…a medic on the scene stated that he believed that Mr. Ellis died from a combination of methamphetamine with agitation. This is the state’s very own witness.”

After the verdict, two defense attorneys said to the media that jurors questioned the prosecution’s version of “Ellis’ cause of death” and the credibility given by civilian eyewitnesses.

A small group of people, after the verdict was announced by the court, took over the intersection and blocked all traffic including the transit. Businesses were boarded in case of a violent but peaceful protest.

Lindquist has written an op-ed in the Tacoma News Tribune on what justice should look like. It’s worth quoting.

What does justice mean to you?

Justice is not the same as getting the verdict that you want.

Justice is not a message that favors or condemns a particular group of people.

Justice doesn’t mean that your family and friends can bask in the validation of 12 strangers.

He said that a law change five years ago, which removed the burden of proof of malice on the part of the police in a death in custody, was a good thing because “we wanted officers, public employees, to be held accountable for their actions.” We also wanted officers to be in a position to do their jobs and keep us safe, without having to fear being sent to jail for reasonable behavior in challenging circumstances. This included good-faith errors. We need good officers.”

Then he added, “Here if the officers were acquitted of all charges, this case could serve as a good example of prosecutorial abuse.” If the officers were convicted, then this case could serve as a good example of police accountability.

The governor, attorney general, mayor, and council of the city used this racially charged, fraught case surrounding the George Floyd Riots and COVID shutdowns to make political statements by slapping three cops who were simply doing their job and following their training. The evidence and the outcome prove it.

After the verdict, the mayor had a chance to show a calmer and more amiable side. Instead, he made a dramatic emotional display in front of cameras.

Activists cited the trials of the cops who were involved in the George Floyd murders to prove that Manny Ellis’ death was not malicious. The convictions of those cops involved in the George Floyd deaths may eventually be overturned because of their politically charged time, place, and manner.

Manny Ellis passed away in custody. Tragically, he died. His mother and family are devastated by their loss. We can understand the concerns of black community members and citizens. We shouldn’t give cops a free pass because they are cops. Questions must be asked and they need to be answered. Three years, three investigations, and hundreds of thousands in legal fees for each police officer, as well as months of court proceedings and hours of depositions later, the answers to these questions are in.

This is what justice looks like.