Tacoma (Wash.) Mayor Victoria Woodards called on Friday for all four officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old black man, to be fired, after the county medical examiner ruled his death a homicide in police custody. He died March 3 while in handcuffs, after being restrained by officers on the ground.
New video footage of the violent arrest emerged late Thursday night, showing Tacoma police officers beating Ellis on the side of the road. The footage, provided by the Tacoma Action Collective, also shows officers telling him to "just put your hands behind your back" while they are already on top of him.
In a video statement, Woodards said the video only confirmed what she said the Pierce County medical examiner had made apparent this week: that Ellis died because of the actions of the four officers. Woodards demanded that the city manager fire the officers.
"Tonight, [the family] asked, why does it always take a video for the public to believe when a black person's life is taken unjustly? As an African American woman, I didn't need a video to believe," Woodards said. "As I watched that video I became even more enraged and angered and disappointed."
She asked that the district attorney prosecute the officers "to the fullest extent of the law," following a detailed review of their actions by the Pierce County Sheriff's Office.
Woodards also instructed the city manager to allocate funds for body cameras immediately.
"As the family mentioned to us this morning, it does take a video for so many people to believe the truth about systemic racism and its violent impact on black lives, on my life," Woodards said. "But in order to ensure that every family, that every single family, gets the justice that they deserve, I am also directing the city manager to move forward allocating money for body cams immediately. We have waited way too long."
Tacoma demonstrators have drawn parallels between Ellis's death and George Floyd's death after a Minneapolis police officer dug his knee into Floyd's neck. Audio from police radio captured Ellis yelling, "Can't breathe," KIRO reported. His family's attorney said they were his last words.
"The harshest of realities is George Floyd is right here in Tacoma, and his name is Manny," the attorney, James Bible, told the News Tribune.
Tacoma's police union on Friday issued a fiery rebuke of the mayor's calls for the involved officers to be fired and disputed that Ellis's death was similar to Floyd's.
The union said in a statement titled "Now Is The Time For Facts, Not Theatrics," that Woodards made her remarks based on "short, blurry, partial Twitter videos" and an absence of due process. The union accused Woodards of giving a "hyperbolic storyline" and accused her of political theatrics.
"What happened in Minneapolis to George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was wrong," the union said. "Tacoma officers Burbank, Collins, Ford and Rankine did not murder Mr. Ellis."
On the night he died, Ellis played drums at a church revival before hanging out with his landlord and her husband, the News Tribune reported. On his walk home, police encountered him around 11:30 p.m. and claimed that he was trying to open doors of occupied cars, frightening a woman.
When they asked him what he was doing, Ellis allegedly told them he had warrants and would talk to them, before police said he began to act erratically, banging on a police car before starting to fight officers, the department claims. Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, told the News Tribune that Ellis allegedly picked up an officer by his vest and "slam-dunked him on the ground."
But the exact details of the officers' actions from that point until Ellis died on the ground were not entirely clear. The video released by Tacoma Action Collective on Thursday sheds more light on the actions of one officer, who apparently punched Ellis repeatedly while he fidgeted on the ground.
"Hey! Stop! Oh my God, stop hitting him!" the woman who filmed the arrest from her car yelled out to police from the window. "Just arrest him! . . . Oh my God, that looks so scary."
As she drove up to get a closer look, two officers on top of Ellis said, "Just put your hands behind your back" while restraining him on the ground.
Police eventually radioed for paramedics. Within a minute of their arrival, Ellis stopped breathing, according to the News Tribune.
The medical examiner ruled that the exact cause of his death was respiratory arrest due to hypoxia — a lack of oxygen reaching body tissues — which was due to physical restraint, and dilated cardiomyopathy, more commonly known as an enlarged heart, were contributing factors.
"The Pierce County Sheriff's Office wanted to cover up my brother's murder," said Ellis's sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, during a Thursday news conference. "Every single officer involved needs to be in a jumpsuit."
Woodards extended another apology to the family early Friday morning, saying she realized it was not enough and that the family needed to see action.
The mayor, a former president of the Tacoma Urban League, called on the residents of Tacoma to "hold us accountable."