'I can't breathe': Calls for justice surge for Manuel Ellis, black man who died in police custody

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Saturday, June 6, 2020
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Videos from the encounter show Manuel Ellis struggling with two officers, who appear to throw punches and pin him to the ground.

TACOMA, Wash. -- The mayor of Tacoma, Washington, is calling for officers to be prosecuted after videos surfaced of a black man's fatal encounter with police.

Manuel Ellis, 33, called out "I can't breathe" before dying in police custody three months ago, similar to George Floyd's plea as former Minneapolis Officier Derek Chauvin pressed a knee to his neck on Memorial Day.

Videos from the March 3 encounter show Ellis struggling with two uniformed officers, who appear to throw punches and pin him to the ground.

Sara McDowell, who filmed the encounter, can be heard yelling, "Hey! Stop! Oh my god, stop hitting him. Just arrest him. Just arrest him. Oh my god, that looks so scary."

In the second clip, McDowell is driving by as two officers are restraining Ellis and repeatedly telling him to put his hands behind his back.

Police said once he called out "I can't breathe," officers rolled him on his side and called paramedics, who performed CPR for 30 minutes before Ellis' death.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Ellis suffered respiratory arrest due to physical restraint, classifying his death as a homicide.

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said in a statement that officials "have placed the four officers involved ... on administrative leave" while they investigate the incident.

Police said Ellis was trying to open doors of unoccupied cars when they made contact with him, which led to the physical altercation.

McDowell, who recorded the video, told CNN it did not appear that Ellis attacked police.

"I saw Manny at the beginning when he was walking on the sidewalk, and the police officers got his attention. Manny walked to the car a little bit, wasn't touching it, nothing, turned around, and was going back to the sidewalk when the officer opened the door and smacked him, made him fall," she said.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said the officers involved "should be fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

"We can no longer allow black residents or any residents of our community to die in the hands of our police officers because of broken processes and systems," she said.

Ellis' family is also calling for justice. His mother, Marcia Carter-Patterson, told reporters that his last words to her were, "I love you, mom."

"We have to do something. My brother did not have to die that night," said Ellis' sister, Monet Carter-Mixon