Tacoma Police Chief Exonerates Two Officers Accused of Wrongdoing in In-Custody Death

Tacoma Police Chief Exonerates Two Officers Accused of Wrongdoing in In-Custody Death

By Steve Pomper 

Interim Tacoma Police Chief Mike Ake recently announced he’d exonerated two Tacoma police officers of any department policy violations. The findings are a result of internal investigations related to the in-custody death of Manuel Ellis in March 2020. According to KING 5 News, Chief Ake announced the findings on Dec. 21, during a City Council meeting.

I wrote about this incident in May and August 2021, focusing as much on the biased media coverage as on what occurred during the incident. In the May Lifezette article, I wrote, “Here we go again. Washington State Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson has charged Tacoma Police officers with murder and manslaughter for what appears to be doing their jobs. Cops using force does not look good. And guess what? It never will. But that no longer matters. No matter what the suspect does, if it ends badly, it is always and every time the officer’s fault.”

To refresh, again from LZ, “Once again, proving cops are not psychic, someone called 911 to report Ellis was allegedly harassing a woman and hitting her car windows. As officers arrived, Ellis reportedly also pounded on the patrol car and then attacked the two officers.”

After pounding on the hood of the patrol car, as the Hill had reported, “‘[Ellis] picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground,’ a spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said at the time. ‘He never tried to run, he engaged with the officers and started a fight.’”

As I noted back then, Ellis’ lack of response to police commands and his violent resistance, along with the M.E.’s report of “methamphetamine intoxication,” possibly signaled Ellis was in the throes of “excited delirium.”

In this state, suspects behave irrationally, have increased strength, may seem impervious to pain, and often complain of difficulty breathing. Suspects have also been known to lie about having difficulty breathing to dupe cops into loosening their grips.

I wrote, “Often, people catch only snippets of police events shown by media on endless video loops of the most incriminating footage they can find. So, people base their judgments of an entire incident on those fragments of information.”

In the Ellis case, a video shows a portion of the incident involving police officers attempting to arrest Ellis. He is combative during the video, yet the female recording the footage is upset that the cops are striking and attempting to restrain Ellis. She shouts, “Stop! Why don’t you just arrest him?”

I offered, rhetorically, “Hey… why didn’t those cops think of that? Oh, wait… they did. That’s what they were trying to do,” but he wouldn’t let them.

Magic word to make him stop, please.

As I wrote in the NPA August article, “The officers are clearly exhausted from the incident that began well before the woman began recording,” from attempting to arrest a resisting, intoxicated suspect.

Back to media coverage. The Seattle Times is covering the exoneration of the two Tacoma police officers almost entirely from a perspective favorable to the suspect. Just look at the headline. Did it read, “Officers family thrilled after chief clears them of wrongdoing just in time for Christmas?” No. It read, “Family outraged after Tacoma police chief clears 2 of the officers involved in Manuel Ellis’ death.”

In August, I also wrote, “Patrick Malone, a leftist Seattle Times reporter (I know, redundant), covered the story. He betrays his bias (the article was not designated opinion) when he comments on ‘a decades-overdue conversation about Tacoma police’s treatment of Black [sic] Tacoma residents….’ He continues, ‘The Ellis family and their supporters weren’t going to sit by quietly.’ Well, they’re sure being quiet about their kin’s intoxicated, violent, and illegal behavior.”

These two cleared officers’ involvement was peripheral at best. Reportedly, Officer Armando Farinas put a spit hood over Ellis’ head well, because he’d been spitting. This is a pretty standard tactic to protect officers from a biohazard exposure. The hood, mask, sock is made of a light mesh similar to mosquito netting. Investigators ruled Farinas’ actions were “reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.” Of course, they were.

That was the only action Officer Farinas took, which is consistent with police training (and common sense) for that circumstance. I did it during my career when we had a spitter or just someone unintentionally, but prolifically leaking mucus all over the place.

Officer Masiyh Ford, the other officer cleared, simply held Ellis’ legs down during the arrest. You can see on the video from earlier in the incident, Ellis kicking at officers. From the report’s description of Masiyh’s actions, it appears the officer did his part well and even showed compassion for the suspect. While holding his legs, he reportedly tried to calm Ellis down, and he “let him know medical aid was on the way.”

According to the report, when Ellis said he couldn’t breathe, Ford helped roll him into a “recovery position,” on his side. The report also indicates Ford was the first officer to let arriving medical responders know Ellis’ condition was getting worse.

A family’s initial heartbreak and anger, even if their family member had committed a criminal act preceding his death, is understandable. However, it’s been over a year and a half since the incident, and it’s not unreasonable to expect people, even the suspect’s family, to be reasonable.

If the family reacts this way to clearing two officers who barely participated in the incident and clearly did nothing wrong, we can only imagine what the family’s and the media’s response will be if the other three officers, who were charged with serious crimes by the radically partisan, anti-cop state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are similarly cleared.

The dispositions of the three other officers involved are, as the Times reported, “Two Tacoma officers, Matthew Collins, 38, and Christopher ‘Shane’ Burbank, 35, face second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter charges, and officer Timothy ‘Timmy’ Rankine, 32, is charged with first-degree manslaughter in connection with Ellis’ death.”