Skip to content

Tacoma, Washington, Black man died after saying ‘I can’t breathe’ while in police custody

Photo: A.R. Shaw

The death of another Black man who allegedly died while in police custody has sparked more outrage across the country. The incident occurred on March 3, 2020, when Manuel Ellis was handcuffed by police officers in Tacoma, Washington.

According to KOMO News, the Tacoma Police Department reported that two officers encountered Ellis around 11:22 p.m. because he was allegedly opening car doors with people in it.

The officers, whose identities have yet to be released, stopped Ellis and ultimately told him that he had outstanding warrants. At some point, according to police, Ellis struck their patrol car, which led to a scuffle and the arrival of two other officers.

During the scuffle, Ellis allegedly yelled “I can’t breathe,” according to audio recorded from a police radio call. Ellis eventually stopped breathing and lost consciousness. Nearly one minute after firefighters arrived, Ellis, a father of two and a member of his church’s choir, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Initially, his cause of death was listed as pending. However, on June 5, the Pierce County medical examiner’s office ruled Ellis’ death a homicide caused by a lack of oxygen due to physical restrain.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards has since called for the firing of the four police officers who were present during Ellis’ death.

I am demanding tonight that the Pierce County Sheriff review and confirm every action taken by each officer. I demand that the sheriff provide details of the actions of each officer on the scene and I am directing the city manager to fire each officer involved,” Woodards said at a news conference. “The officer who committed this crime should be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The report on Ellis’ cause of death became another troubling incident as millions across the nation have protested the death of George Floyd.

On June 6, Floyd will be laid to rest following a ceremony to be held in his hometown, Houston, Texas.