Tacoma man died ‘due to physical restraint’ while in police custody, medical examiner says

Manuel Ellis
Manuel Ellis

The death of a man while in the custody of police in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year was “due to physical restraint,” according to a county medical examiner.

Manuel Ellis died March 3 after police saw him trying to get into vehicles that had people in them, according to a news release from the city’s police department. When officers approached Ellis, there was a physical altercation and Ellis was physically restrained because he was combative, police said.

The officers called for medical help when they saw he needed help, but Ellis died.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.

The sheriff’s department is investigating Ellis’ death, a statement from the Tacoma mayor’s office said.

“We pause amidst our struggle with the current public health and economic crisis, as well as the flood of emotions stirred up by the tragic and unacceptable death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and reflect on the grief and sadness of Manuel Ellis’ family and loved ones,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said. “We pause and share their grief, because every loss of life matters.”

She added that she knows that the city wants answers and justice.

“And so do we,” she said.

The announcement about the death investigation comes during a time of massive protests and national conversations about the treatment of African Americans at the hands of police.

Floyd, a black man, died in custody May 25 and four now-fired officers face charges, including one who is accused of second degree murder.

There have been protests in Tacoma over Ellis’ death.

Ellis was black; two of the four officers in his case are white, one is African American and one is Asian, according to police.

Those officers were placed on administrative leave immediately after the incident, but the department ruled there were no departmental violations. They had been on full duty until Wednesday when they went on leave again, the Tacoma police statement said.

Ellis’ cause of death was initially listed as pending while medical examiners awaited toxicology tests, the office told CNN.

The death certificate also lists contributing factors of methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly known as an enlarged heart, the office said.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the case is a priority for him and the mayor.

“We will be pushing to make sure there is a full and complete investigation,” Inslee said at news conference Wednesday.