Inslee orders new investigation into Tacoma man’s in-custody death

Tacoma Man Died ‘due To Physical Restraint’ While In Police Custody, Medical Examiner Says
TACOMA, WA - JUNE 03: People listen during a vigil for Manuel Ellis, a black man whose March death while in Tacoma Police custody was recently found to be a homicide, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiners Office, near the site of his death on June 3, 2020 in Tacoma, Washington. Protests and other events sparked by the death of George Floyd have continued in the Tacoma area after the Medical Examiner found that the cause of death in the Manuel Ellis case was caused by respiratory arrest due to hypoxia due to physical restraint. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

TACOMA, Wash. — Governor Jay Inslee has ordered a new investigation into the death of a black Tacoma man while in police custody.

Tacoma police tried to arrest Manuel Ellis on March 3 after officers saw him “trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles,” a release from the agency said.

Officers said there was a physical altercation and Ellis had to be physically restrained because he was “combative.” Ellis can be heard in audio recordings saying “I can’t breathe” and died at the scene.

Earlier this month, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodard called for the firing of the four officers who responded to the incident, which was referred to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office for investigation.

Now, Inslee has called for an independent review of the case. Inslee released the following statement Wednesday:

“I have become convinced that the Pierce County Sheriff should not complete the investigation of the death of Manuel Ellis and the county prosecutor should not review the investigation and make charging decisions. Instead, there must be a new investigation and charging decision made independent of Pierce County law enforcement.

“I came to this conclusion in consultation with Attorney General Bob Ferguson after the county prosecutor informed the state late yesterday that the Pierce County Sheriff’s department had officers at the scene when Mr. Ellis was detained and died. In light of this new information, the county prosecutor believes that she has an irreconcilable conflict that would preclude her office from handling this case.

“Separately, we were informed that a Washington State Patrol trooper responded to a call for assistance and was at the scene briefly while Mr. Ellis was in custody and still alive. The patrol is obtaining details from that trooper.”

Inslee said he and Ferguson are working to determine who will conduct the independent investigation and who will make charging decision.

“That said, the state will ensure an independent investigation and independent prosecutorial review into the death of Manuel Ellis. We will ensure that the work is done free of conflicts of interest,” Inslee said.

The governor also offered his apologizes to Ellis’ family as they will have to wait longer for the investigation to be completed.

RELATED: Black man who died in Tacoma police custody can be heard screaming ‘I can’t breathe’ on dispatcher audio

READ: Tacoma mayor has demanded 4 officers be fired after a black man died in police custody