Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Black Lives Matter

Manuel Ellis’ Family Awarded $4 Million Settlement In His 2020 Police Killing

The family of Manuel Ellis, an unarmed man who Tacoma police tased, handcuffed, hogtied and beat, after which he pleaded “I can’t breathe” before suffocating to death in 2020, welcomed the settlement but said it’s “not enough."


By Dorian Geiger
Manuel Ellis 1

The family of Manuel Ellis, an unarmed Black man who was killed by Tacoma police officers in 2020, was awarded $4 million following a partial settlement of a federal civil lawsuit.

The Pierce County Council voted to approve the $4,010,000.00 settlement on Wednesday afternoon, both officials and Ellis’ family confirmed.

“We are happy to have reached this agreement with the county,” Matthew Ericksen, an attorney representing Ellis’ family, said in an email to Oxygen.com. “Nothing about the last two years has been easy for the Ellis family but, at the end of the day, I commend Pierce County for making the deliberate decision to seek a compromise rather than litigating this lawsuit to the ninth degree.” 

The family’s suit had sought $40,000,000 in damages from two government defendants, naming Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies Gary Sanders and Anthony Messineo in addition to the City of Tacoma.

“No monetary value will ever compensate for the loss or heartache Mr. Ellis’ family and loved ones experienced over the last two years,” the Office of the Pierce County Council also said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “Nor will it stop the Ellis family or community from grieving his death.”

According to the Ellis family’s attorney, the federal claim has only been partially settled. The Ellis family will now “aggressively pursue” its complaint against the City of Tacoma, he said.

“This settlement with Pierce County represents a small fraction of what the Ellis family is seeking from the City of Tacoma, and we will keep up this legal battle with Tacoma for as long as we need to,” Ericksen stated.

A spokesperson for Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards declined to comment on the open civil case this week.

“The Mayor will not be commenting on the Pierce County settlement,” Bucoda Warren, an interim chief policy analyst to the mayor, told Oxygen.com on Tuesday.

Manuel Ellis 2

Ellis, who died nearly three months before George Floyd’s police killing in Minneapolis and the subsequent anti-police protests that engulfed the U.S., was tased, handcuffed, hogtied, and beaten by Tacoma police while walking home from a 7-Eleven on March 3, 2020. He was ultimately suffocated to death after officers affixed a spit mask to his face. 

Ellis died from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, according to an autopsy cited in a police report obtained by Oxygen.com. His death was ruled a homicide. Prior heart conditions and methamphetamine found in his system, however, may have also been contributing factors in the 33-year-old’s death. 

Video of the deadly encounter, filmed by a passing motorist, showed an officer thrusting his knee into Ellis’ upper back as he laid shrieking on the concrete, struggling for air. 

Ellis, who repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe,” multiple times, was told by a Tacoma officer “shut the f--k up” in response, according to separate home surveillance recordings

At the time, Tacoma police officers didn’t utilize body cameras or have an active policy in place regarding how to use spit masks or transport hoods.

In May 2021, Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder in Ellis’ death. A third officer, Timothy Rankine, who is Asian American, is also facing a manslaughter charge. 

All three have pleaded not guilty and bonded out pending trial, which is expected to get underway in October. 

“He acted appropriately and he’s not guilty,” Anne Melani Bremner, a criminal defense attorney representing Rankine, told Oxygen.com. “He assisted other officers. He didn’t use unlawful or excessive force.”

A pretrial status conference hearing is set for April 1, according to court records.

For more than two years, Ellis’ family has insisted the 33-year-old Washington state father did nothing wrong the night he was killed. 

“They murdered him,” Ellis's sister, Monet Carter-Mixon said.

For the 31-year-old mother of six — who accused investigators of ignoring her family for months — the multimillion dollar settlement is too little, too late.

“It was a nice gesture but it’s definitely not enough for everything that I’ve had to go through,” she added.

Ellis, a musician and deeply spiritual father of two — who had struggled with drug addiction — was described by loved ones as “loving,” and “gentle,” and “really good guy” who will be remembered for his keen sense of humor.

“He was extremely funny,” Carter-Mixon added.