2 Tacoma, Washington Cops Cleared in Death of Man Who Died While Being Restrained

Two police officers involved in the March 2020 death of Manuel Ellis, who died while being restrained by police, have been cleared to return to work after a review determined they did not violate department policies, officials announced Tuesday.

Masiyh Ford, 29 and Armando Farinas, 27, were not charged following the incident and three other officers who are facing criminal charges are still under investigation, according to The News Tribune.

Ellis, 33, died while being restrained at the neck by police officers after he was stopped on the street. The Pierce County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide because Ellis died due to lack of oxygen from the restraint. An enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication were ruled contributing factors in the death.

Other officers, Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine, have all pleaded not guilty to two murder charges and a manslaughter charge, respectively.

Ford was investigated for use of force violations for restraining Ellis's leg while another officer was on his neck.

Farinas was investigated for "unsatisfactory performance of his duties" for placing a spit hood over Ellis's head, as he and interim Tacoma Police Chief Mike Ake said he was allegedly worried about the health of other officers and "biohazard exposure" as Ellis was spitting while on the ground.

"This is based upon a thorough review of Internal Affairs investigations which includes the criminal investigations of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, Washington State Patrol and Attorney General's Office. I feel it is an appropriate decision based upon the facts," Ake said.

Manuel Ellis Death, Tacoma Police
People hold signs during a vigil for Manuel Ellis, a Black man whose March death while in Tacoma Police custody was recently found to be a homicide, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiners Office, near the site of his death on June 3, 2020 in Tacoma, Washington. Two of the officers involved in Ellis' death have been cleared to return to the police force, officials announced Tuesday. David Ryder/Getty Images

Ake said the officers, who have been on leave for over a year, will undergo several weeks of training before returning to the force.

The death made Ellis' name synonymous with pleas for justice at Pacific Northwest protests. His final words — "I can't breathe, sir!" — were captured by a home security camera, in addition to the retort from one of the officers: "Shut the (expletive) up, man."

Burbank and Collins reported that the encounter happened after they saw Ellis trying to get into occupied cars at a stoplight. Ellis was on his way back from a convenience store.

The officers said Ellis punched the window of their cruiser and attacked them as they got out, according to statements from other officers cited in the charging documents.

But two witnesses have said the police attacked. An officer in the passenger side of a patrol car slammed his door into Ellis, knocking him down, and started beating him, they said.

Ake said Farinas had no other contact with Ellis.

Once detained, Ake said Ford tried to calm him down and let him know medical aid was coming. "When Mr. Ellis commented that he could not breathe, Officer Ford assisted in rolling him onto his side in a recovery position," Ake said. "He also was the first officer to alert arriving medical personnel that Mr. Ellis's condition was deteriorating."

Ellis, of Tacoma, died on the street while being treated by medics, according to authorities.

Leslie Cushman, a civil rights attorney and the citizen sponsor of Initiative 940, which changed police deadly force laws and requires officers to be trained in deescalation techniques, called the decision about the two officers "beyond disappointing," The Seattle Times reported.

"What did they do following the brutality?" Cushman said of the officers. "Did they report the cover-up? There are no clean hands among the officers present that night."

An internal investigation involving the three officers facing charges is ongoing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.