By Mike Baker, The New York Times | A black man who called out “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, was killed as a result of oxygen deprivation and the physical restraint that was used on him, according to details of a medical examiner’s report released Wednesday.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the death of the man, Manuel Ellis, 33, was a homicide. Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department were in the process of preparing a report about the March death, which occurred shortly after an arrest by officers from the Tacoma Police Department, said the sheriff’s spokesman, Ed Troyer.
“The information is all being put together,” Troyer said. “We expect to present it to the prosecutor at the end of this week or early next week.”
Ellis’s sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, called for action to bring accountability in the death and further scrutiny of both the Police Department’s practices and how the investigation into his death has been handled.
“There’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” Carter-Mixon said.
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 Ellis, a musician and father of two from Tacoma, on the night of March 3 as they were stopped at an intersection. They saw him banging on the window of another vehicle, Troyer said.
Ellis approached the officers, Troyer said, and then threw an officer to the ground when the officer got out of the vehicle. The two officers and two backup officers who joined — two of them white, one black and one Asian — handcuffed him.
“Mr. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combative,” the Tacoma Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.
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Ellis was still breathing when medical personnel arrived, Troyer said. He was removed from handcuffs while personnel worked on him for about 40 minutes, Troyer said. He was then pronounced dead.
Family members said Ellis was the father of an 11-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. He was a talented musician at his church. Carter-Mixon said Ellis was like a father figure to her boys, coaching them on things like how handle themselves to keep safe in a world of racial injustices.
“My heart literally hurts,” she said. “It’s painful. My brother was my best friend.”
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