Tacoma Police Department Officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins have been charged with second-degree murder. Officer Timothy Rankine has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the case.
A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy is also under investigation.
In the past 40 years, only three other Washington cops have ever been prosecuted for killing anyone. It’s a mighty White state, and a large portion of the state is belligerently racist, particularly east of the Cascades.
But, then, those numbers don’t particularly distinguish Washington’s cops from cops anywhere else in America.
Cops know exactly what to write and what to say, to con White prosecutors and juries. Every time.
And why wouldn’t they know? Cops have spent the past hundred years buying legislators and tailoring criminal laws specifically to keep themselves out of jail. Nowadays, it’s called, “Qualified Immunity.”
Nor is Washington’s White population especially more racist than the rest of the country. They’re just more open about it than some other states.
One of the interesting things to me about this Seattle Times report is that the paper has dared to identify all three of the killer cops as U.S. Army veterans. That’s a politically explosive issue to take on, but it’s one that legitimately deserves national attention.
Just how many of America’s current crop of killer cops and abusive pigs are veterans?
Is there a problem in hiring the current generation of veterans as cops? Are our nation’s law enforcement agencies buying a lot of damaged goods from Afghanistan and Iraq?
I’m not implying anything, and I don’t know. But it’s worth a public health examination. The problem is, we can’t.
Nobody will ever address that question, unless nation-wide, mandatory, detailed reporting and transparency are forced on the law enforcement profession.
3 Tacoma officers charged in killing of Manuel Ellis
Seattle Times staff reporter
In a year of reckoning for police accountability, three Tacoma police officers face criminal charges in the March 2020 killing of Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man whose death sparked widespread protests and calls for justice.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who took over the case from Pierce County, said Thursday he charged Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, and Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter.
Ellis’ sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, had a mixed reaction to the announcement. “It would be extremely hard not to convict based off of the evidence: witness statements, video and [the officers’] own statements,” she said in an interview with The Seattle Times.
“However, I still feel like the other officers, because of their involvement and based on their training, that they knew better, that they could have been charged.”
The Washington State Patrol is serving arrest warrants for Collins, Burbank and Rankine, but it is unclear if they are in custody. Telephone and email messages left for attorneys Michael Starapoli, who is representing Mathew Collins, and Steve Myers, the lawyer for Christopher Burbank and Timothy Rankine, were not immediately returned.
Ferguson’s announcement bucked a historic trend in Washington state, where police officers almost never face criminal prosecution for deaths they cause on the job.
The number of officers charged in Ellis’ death equals the number of charges against law-enforcement officers in the past 40 years for killing someone while on duty. Before Thursday, there had been three officers prosecuted, including an Auburn officer charged last year with murder and assault.
The murder and manslaughter charges against Collins, Burbank and Rankine carry the maximum penalty of life in prison.
The Tacoma police union, International Union of Police Associations Local 6, issued a statement calling the charges “a politically motivated witch hunt” and said “an unbiased jury will not allow these fine public servants to be sacrificed at the altar of public sentiment.”
Ellis died March 3, 2020, after being restrained by officers as he walked home from a convenience store with a late-night snack of raspberry-filled doughnuts. The Pierce County Medical Examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide, with oxygen deprivation caused by physical restraint as the primary cause, and methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as contributing factors.
Officers Collins, 38, Burbank, 35, Rankine, 32, and Masyih Ford, 29, were placed on leave immediately after Ellis’ death as the subjects of an investigation, initially conducted by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. The four officers were back at work two weeks later, but got suspended with pay again in June, when the medical examiner’s homicide ruling became public.
That same week, just before the sheriff’s investigation was to be completed, two eyewitnesses surfaced with video and public statements contradicting officers’ claims that Ellis had behaved aggressively toward them.
The witnesses and recorded portions of the fatal interaction cast the first two officers to arrive — Collins and Burbank — as the aggressors, with Ford and Rankine later restraining Ellis.
According to the charging documents, there was no evidence Ellis fought back once he was taken to the ground by Collins and Burbank, as corroborated by the videos and statements from six witnesses.
In charging documents, the attorney general notes that Collins choked Ellis from behind, a tactic courts have ruled constitutes deadly force, while Burbank used a Taser on him. One witness video shows Burbank delivering Taser strikes to Ellis while Ellis “puts his hands up” in apparent submission.
“(Ellis) wasn’t even defending himself,” said one witness.
The video then shows Ellis’ head falling “limply towards the pavement. Collins can then be seen pushing down with his arm onto the back of Ellis’s head or neck, pressing Ellis’s face into the pavement,” according to the charging documents.
According an audio recording from a nearby Ring camera, Ellis began pleading, “Can’t breathe, sir. Can’t breathe!” The audio caught an officer’s response: “Shut the (expletive) up, man.”
Rankine arrived late in the interaction between Ellis and officers, and helped apply a hobble, a nylon strap to restrain legs. Rankine acknowledged in a statement to investigators that a paramedic who arrived at the scene feared Ellis was “gonna code” — was near death — unless he got an IV, so the paramedic asked Rankine to remove the restraints from Ellis’ body.
Rankine resisted, telling the paramedic he did not “wanna get him outta cuffs in case he starts fighting again,” charging documents said. Only after paramedics insisted on removal of the restraints did Rankine oblige.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s investigation collapsed, the day before its findings were to be sent to prosecutors, when the department revealed that a deputy, Sgt. Gary Sanders, 47, had helped restrain Ellis, presenting a conflict of interest.
Gov. Jay Inslee stepped in, handing the investigation to the Washington State Patrol, with Ferguson’s office responsible for a charging decision.
“In June, I called for a new investigation and for the attorney general to make a charging decision in the case, as it was clear to me that those needed to be made independent from Pierce County law enforcement,” Inslee said in a statement Thursday.
The more thorough State Patrol investigation included interviews with witnesses who had not been contacted during the sheriff’s investigation, including bystanders who recorded the fatal encounter.
In February, Ferguson hired Seattle attorney Patty Eakes, who prosecuted Green River serial killer Gary Ridgway, as a contract consultant to assist with his decision. She will lead the prosecution team, with assistant Attorney General Kent Liu, according to Ferguson’s office.
The State Patrol investigation revealed in December that a fifth Tacoma police officer, Armando “Manny” Farinas, 27, placed a nylon spit guard over Ellis’ head while he was handcuffed and hogtied. The medical examiner cited the mask as a factor that contributed to Ellis’ death. Farinas was placed on leave Dec. 30, nearly 10 months after Ellis’ death.
The case helped spark changes at the local and state level. At the time of Ellis’ death, the Tacoma Police Department had no policies regarding use of chokeholds or spit masks. Now, the department has banned chokeholds, and the Washington Legislature imposed a statewide ban as part of several law-enforcement accountability measures.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, who has called for the officers involved to be fired, said during a city council meeting Thursday that she hopes the charges signal a new day for her city.
“Challenge us with hard questions and continue to hold us accountable as we work to achieve the lasting systemic change we all hope to see in Tacoma going forward,” she said. “This is an important turning point for Tacoma.”
Ellis’ name and smiling face have been a fixture at protests in Tacoma and Seattle against police use of force. His family is suing Tacoma for Ellis’ death, seeking $30 million.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report.
Tacoma police involved in Manuel Ellis’ death
A Washington State Patrol investigation documented the backgrounds and roles officers played in the fatal encounter.
Matthew Collins, Tacoma police
Hired: June 2015
Background: U.S. Army veteran; trainer of other Tacoma police officers in defensive tactics and member of the SWAT team.
Investigation revealed: Choked Ellis from behind; hit Ellis’ head and face repeatedly with elbows and possibly fists and pinned Ellis to the pavement with knees to his head, neck or upper back; handcuffed Ellis as he lay prone.
Christopher “Shane” Burbank, Tacoma police
Hired: December 2015
Annual salary: $124,741
Background: U.S. Army veteran; previously a police officer in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Role: Knocked Ellis to the ground with an SUV door; stunned Ellis four times with a Taser; wrestled Ellis and detained him on the ground; handcuffed Ellis as he lay prone.
Timothy Rankine, Tacoma police
Hired: August 2018
Annual salary: $65,634
Background: U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan; Rankine told Ford he arrived at the scene of Ellis’ death with the mindset that no one would hurt his “brothers” again, experiencing flashbacks from his service.
Role: Knelt on Ellis’ right shoulder and lower back before sitting across Ellis’ back; did not stop when Ellis said for the fourth and final time that he couldn’t breathe.
From The Tumalo Lookout:
“a politically motivated witch hunt” and “an unbiased jury will not allow these fine public servants to be sacrificed at the altar of public sentiment.”Statement by the Tacoma police union, International Union of Police Associations Local 6, quoted in The Seattle Times, May 27, 2021
OF COURSE it’s politically motivated. Correcting the corruption, brutality, racism and other problems inherent in cop culture requires political action. And a helluva lot of it.
But, hey, d’ya like how the cops condescend to the jury pool?
Washington jurors might just be ignorant enough to fall for it. They have for 40 years.