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Officer acquitted in 2020 death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma is hired by neighboring sheriff’s office

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — One of the three Tacoma police officers cleared of criminal charges in the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis — a Black man who was shocked, beaten and restrained facedown on a sidewalk as he pleaded for breath — has been hired by a neighboring sheriff’s office.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, based in Olympia, Washington, announced on its Facebook page Monday that it had hired former Tacoma officer Christopher Burbank as a patrol deputy.

MANUEL ELLIS, A BLACK MAN WHO DIED DURING A POLICE CONFRONTATION IN WA, WAS NOT A THREAT, EYEWITNESS SAYS

Burbank and two other officers — Timothy Rankine and Matthew Collins — were each cleared of criminal charges by a Pierce County jury last December. Rankine was charged with manslaughter, while Collins and Burbank were charged with manslaughter and second-degree murder.

Manuel-Ellis-Officer-Hired

Christopher “Shane” Burbank speaks with an attorney and codefendants during the pre-trial motion in the trial of Tacoma police officers Matthew Collins, Timothy Rankine and Burbank in the killing of Manny Ellis, Sept. 18, 2023, at Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash. Burbank, one of the three Tacoma police officers cleared of criminal charges in the 2020 death of Ellis, has been hired by a neighboring sheriff’s office. The Thurston County Sheriffs Office announced Monday, April 1, 2024, that it had hired Burbank as a patrol deputy.  (Brian Hayes/The News Tribune via AP, Pool)

Their attorneys argued that Ellis died from a lethal amount of methamphetamine as well as a heart condition, not from the officers’ actions. The Pierce County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide and said it was caused by a lack of oxygen during the physical restraint.

Ellis, 33, was walking home with doughnuts from a 7-Eleven in Tacoma, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Seattle, on March 3, 2020, when he passed a patrol car stopped at a red light, with Collins and Burbank inside.

The officers claimed they saw Ellis try to open the door of a passing car at the intersection and he became aggressive when they tried to question him about it. Collins testified that Ellis demonstrated “superhuman strength” by lifting Collins off the ground and throwing him through the air.

But three witnesses testified they saw no such thing. After what appeared to be a brief conversation between Ellis and the officers — who are both white — Burbank, in the passenger seat, threw open his door, knocking Ellis down, they said. Rankine, who arrived after Ellis was already handcuffed face-down, knelt on his upper back.

The witnesses — one of whom yelled for the officers to stop attacking Ellis — and a doorbell surveillance camera captured video of parts of the encounter. The video showed Ellis with his hands up in a surrender position as Burbank shot a Taser at his chest and Collins wrapped an arm around his neck from behind.

His death came nearly three months before George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police would spark an international outcry against police brutality.

The Tacoma Police Department found that the officers did not violate its use-of-force policy as it was then written — it had been subsequently updated — and the three officers were each paid $500,000 to resign.

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The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle has said it is reviewing the case; the Justice Department can bring prosecutions for federal civil rights violations, but the scope of the review was not disclosed.

The Ellis family settled a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Pierce County, which is home to Tacoma, for $4 million last year.

The trial was the first under a 5-year-old state law designed to make it easier to prosecute police accused of wrongfully using deadly force.

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