Tacoma police tried to arrest Manuel Ellis on the night of March 3, after officers spotted him “trying to open the car door of occupied vehicles,” according to an information statement from the city police department.
Officers said there was a physical altercation and that Ellis had to physically restrain himself because he was “combative,” the statement said. Police said officers called for medical help when they saw he needed help, but Ellis died at the scene.
The soundtrack, recorded by the Broadcastify website, provides additional details about the deadly incident. Officers can be heard searching for a hobble – a kind of release for the legs – around 11:26 p.m. About 50 seconds later, as the officer relays the message to the dispatcher, a male voice can be heard in the background shouting, “I can’t breathe.”
A few minutes later, an ambulance officer can be heard.
“They are absolutely certain that it is their brother and their son,” James, the family’s attorney, told CNN.
“This family was constantly listening to him in a heartfelt way,” he added.
CNN contacted a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the agency investigating the matter, but did not receive an immediate response. Sheriff’s investigators confirmed the footage to a CNN KIRO associate and said there was also footage of the incident reported in evidence.
“When he said he couldn’t breathe, they rolled him over to the side and he was breathing and talking,” Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, told KIRO.
Four police officers were not charged, but were placed on administrative leave.
Washington government Jay Inslee said in a news release Friday night that the state will conduct an independent review of Ellis’ death until Pierce County Sheriff concludes its investigation. The review does not lead to a review of the results of the investigation, Inslee said, but is intended to provide confidence in the outcome.
“We know that Manuel Ellis was one of far, far too many blacks who died while in police custody in America, including here in Washington state. The Washingtontonians deserve every guarantee that investigations and billing decisions related to police shootings and deaths in police custody shall be dealt with promptly, independently and with justice. “
Two videos have been released
Both videos of the alleged altercation are under a minute and were posted on Twitter. A video appears showing officers beating Ellis as he lies on the ground. Another video appears showing them holding Ellis on the ground and telling him to put his hands behind his back.
The videos were posted on the website of a local activist group, Tacoma Action Collective, and were recorded by Sara McDowell, a local resident who witnessed the arrest.
It is unclear whether the videos were recorded before or after the “I can’t breathe” exclamation was transmitted over the dispatcher’s sound.
After the videos were released Friday, Troyer said the sheriff’s department was investigating the issue and would not comment.
“We don’t comment on it because we don’t have it, it’s not ours,” he said. “As much as I wish we’d all seen the totality of the picture and we could have a person come in and bring part of the case, that would have been great, but none of that happened.”
The mayor of Tacoma and the police union are in conflict over the death
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards is demanding that four police officers be fired and prosecuted after Ellis’ death. The Woodards announced this after a video of Ellis’ arrest surfaced.
“At this point, at this point, based on the information I know today, the actions of the officers we saw tonight in this video only confirmed that Manuel Ellis’ death was a murder, ”Woodards said at a news conference Thursday. “I ask – no, I’m telling you I’m going to ask for a few things, and the officers who committed this crime should be fired and prosecuted in accordance with the law.”
There were protests in Tacoma over Ellis’ death.
Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical abstinence, the Pierce Medical District Office found. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen.
Ellis was black; two of the four officers in his case are white, one is black and one is Asian, police said.
The Tacoma police union wrote in a statement Thursday that the mayor handed down the verdict to the four officers “without any facts, without investigation, without proceedings and with less than a minute of short, blurry, partial Twitter videos in hand.”
“She called them criminals. She called for their persecution. She called for their termination of employment. And she called for all these things without a shred of evidence to corroborate her words beyond false anger,” the union said in a statement.
The union also referred to Floyd’s death, saying it was wrong and a “disgusting badge” to humanity as well.
“But understand; Tacoma is not Minneapolis. The incident in which Mr. Ellis was here in Tacoma is not the same as the incident with Mr. Floyd,” the statement said. “This is not the time to sacrifice dedicated public servants in front of the altar of public sentiment.”
CNN’s Carma Hassan contributed to this report.