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Another Man Who Said “I Don’t Breathe” Died in Custody. An Autopsy That Calls It Homicide.



SEATTLE – A black man who called “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody in Tacoma, Wash., Was killed as an oxygen deprivation and the physical restraint used on him, according to sources details of a medical released the examiner’s report on Wednesday.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled that the death of man Manuel Ellis, 33, was a homicide. Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department are in the process of preparing a report on the March death, which occurred following an arrest with officers from the Tacoma Police Department, sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said .

“The information is compiled,” Detective Troyer said. “We hope to present it to the prosecutor by the end of the week or early next week.”

Mr. Ellis died from respiratory arrest, hypoxia and physical restraint, according to the medical examiner’s office. The report listed methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as contributing factors.

Police officers encountered Mr. Ellis, a musician and father of two from Tacoma, on the night of March 3 when they stopped at an intersection. They found him curled up in the window of another vehicle, Detective Troyer said.

Mr. Ellis approached officers, Detective Troyer said, and then threw an officer to the ground when the vehicle exited. Two officers and two backup officers who participated – two of them white, one black and one Asian – offered him.

“Sir. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combed,” the Tacoma Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.

Detective Troyer said he did not know all of the detention details used by officers – they were not wearing body cameras – but said he did not believe they were using a chokehold or a knee on Mr. Ellis’s neck. They pushed him to the side after calling, “I can’t breathe.”

“The main reason he was restrained was that he did not hurt himself or them,” Detective Troyer said. “Once he said he couldn’t breathe, they asked for medical help.”

Detective Troyer said the call for help came four minutes after officers met Mr. Ellis.

Mr. Ellis was still breathing when medical personnel arrived, Detective Troyer said. He was removed from the handcuffs as staff worked with him for about 40 minutes, Detective Troyer said. He is then pronounced dead.

Family members said Mr. Ellis was the father of an 11-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter. He was a wise musician in his church. The family said it was heartbreaking and angry at her death.

“While we have been through a lot of pain, we hope in the community of dedicated opponents that we are joining,” the family said. They were holding a vigil for Mr. Ellis on Wednesday night.

Brian Giordano, a close friend of Mr. Ellis, said the two usually spoke several times a day and that Mr. Ellis had videoed with him two hours before his death. He was excited about a church service he attended and was proud of how he played the drums during the service, Mr. Giordano recalled.

He said it was uncharacteristic of Mr. Ellis to act in the violent manner described by police.

She lives in a neat house and has put her life at risk, she said. “He was always uplifting,” Mr. Giordano said. “He was always up and about taking care of people.”

Death came as Protests spread across the country in the case of George Floyd, a black man who died in the Minneapolis police custody last week. Minnesota officials have charged all four officers in the case, including Derek Chauvin, who remained on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes in the arrest.

Forensics experts who conducted a private autopsy for Mr. Floyd’s family have decided that another knee officer behind Mr. Floyd contributed to making it impossible for his lungs to get enough air.

Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma said Wednesday that she would take appropriate steps based on the findings of the sheriff’s investigation.

“We will know the results of this investigation even as our country abstains from the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others,” Ms. Woodards.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said the issue was a top priority for him.

“We will work to ensure that there is a full and complete investigation into the incident,” Mr. Inslee said.


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