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People hold signs during a vigil for Manuel Ellis in Tacoma, Washington. Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

The Washington state attorney general on Thursday charged two Tacoma police officers with murder and one with manslaughter in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died after repeatedly telling law enforcement he couldn't breathe while being restrained last year.

Why it matters: It's the first time the state's attorney general's office has filed criminal charges against officers for the unlawful use of deadly force.

  • Thursday's announcement also comes just weeks after a jury found former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd — a rare conviction of a police officer.

Context: Ellis, a 33-year-old father of two, had been heading home when he encountered Tacoma officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank on the night of March 3, 2020, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court.

  • The three men appeared to have a "respectful conversation, with no signs of aggression," the statement added, citing eye-witnesses.
  • As Ellis began to walk away, Burbank "abruptly swung open the passenger door of the car, striking Ellis from behind and knocking him to his knees."
  • According to video and eyewitnesses, the officers repeatedly hit and tackled Ellis to the ground, per the probable cause statement. They also tased, hogtied and restrained Ellis, with Collins placing his knee on the Black man's neck. Officer Timothy Rankine arrived at the scene after the two officers called for backup.
  • Ellis can be heard pleading with the officers, saying, "Can't breathe, sir. Can't breathe," in a home security video.
  • “Ellis was not fighting back,” the probable cause statement said. “All three civilian witnesses at the intersection ... state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.”
  • The Pierce county medical examiner last year ruled Ellis' death a homicide.

The big picture: Burbank and Collins have been charged with second-degree murder, and Rankin has been charged with first-degree manslaughter, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.

  • The maximum sentence for both offenses is life in prison.
  • Gov. Jay Inslee (D) ordered a new investigation into Ellis' death after the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, which initially handled the probe, failed to disclose that one of its deputies was involved in Ellis' detention.

The Tacoma Police Union said in a statement it was "disappointed the facts were ignored in favor of what appears to be politically motivated witch hunt."

  • “An unbiased jury will not allow these fine public servants to be sacrificed at the altar of public sentiment," the union added.

Worth noting: Earlier this month, Inslee signed a dozen bills aimed at curbing police misconduct and boosting accountability, including banning chokeholds and neck restraints.

Go deeper: Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd is the rare officer conviction

Go deeper

Feb 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Colorado police had no legal basis to stop, frisk or restrain Elijah McClain, report finds

A protester holds a poster of Elijah McClain during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. Photo: Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Police in Aurora, Colorado, had no legal basis to stop, frisk or use a chokehold on Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in custody in 2019, according to a report by independent investigators released Monday.

Driving the news: The City Council in the Denver suburb ordered the independent review in June amid nationwide protests over the police killing George Floyd and other Black people.

Kim Potter faces first-degree manslaughter charge in Daunte Wright death

A community leader speaks as protesters rally outside the Brooklyn Center police station to protest the death of Daunte Wright. Photo: KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

Minnesota prosecutors upgraded charges Thursday against Kim Potter, the former police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

Why it matters: Potter is now charged with first-degree manslaughter in addition to a prior charge of second-degree manslaughter, but activists have pushed for murder charges during protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, AP notes.

Updated Jul 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Colorado police chief fires officers who reenacted Elijah McClain's death

LaWayne Mosley, father of Elijah McClain, wears a T-shirt with is son's picture on it during a press conference in Oct. 2019. Photo: Andy Cross/MediaNewsGroup/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Interim Aurora, Colorado, police chief Vanessa Wilson fired two officers for reenacting the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain and a third officer for commenting on the photo that captured the "despicable act," the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: McClain died in the summer of 2019 after police officers held him in a chokehold and paramedics used a sedative, ketamine. People have been protesting McClain's death recently after the police killing of George Floyd revitalized the movement against police brutality.