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Draft legislation addressing excessive force announced following death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma police custody

The death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma police custody in March was ruled a homicide. The cause of death was a lack of oxygen due to being restrained.

TACOMA, Wash. — The family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died in Tacoma police custody, and their legal team announced draft legislation Wednesday that addresses the “issues of excessive force in Washington state including the use of a variety of chokeholds."

"This act would make it a human right, a civil right, to not be choked to death by police officers," said James Bible, the family's attorney, during a press conference to announce the legislation.

Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died on March 3 in handcuffs while being restrained by Tacoma police.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner determined Ellis' death was a homicide and that the cause of death was a lack of oxygen due to being restrained.

"Hopefully, this act will save someone's life in the future," Bible said.

According to a press release from Bible, the legislation named Initiative 1300-The Manuel Ellis Washington Anti-Discrimination Act, is “intended to address issues of excessive force in Washington State including the use of a variety of chokeholds and other means of suffocation."

The legislation will also address "systemic inequities" in our society that disproportionately impact communities of color, such as access to healthcare. 

Sponsors and organizations in support of the potential legislation, Ellis’ family members, the NAACP and the Ellis family legal team were present during the announcement.

The groups will work to bring the legislation before the state legislature in 2021.

Cell phone video shot by a bystander from the night of March 3 shows a Tacoma police officer placing Ellis in a brief chokehold as another officer used a Taser on him. The actions seen on the video contradicts a claim by attorneys for the officers who said that no one choked Ellis.

Bible said at the time the video was released that it was damning evidence of a cover-up.

“The police have been perpetuating a false narrative this whole time,” said Bible. “Recently their attorneys had indicated that they never choked anyone in relation to the Manny Ellis case.”

Gov. Jay Inslee announced earlier this year that the Washington State Patrol (WSP) would be investigating Ellis’ death after the state discovered several problems with the previous investigation. The WSP released a statement in August saying it was “working closely with the Attorney General’s office to conduct a full, fair, and open investigation that will be led by the facts and will be concluded with the truth of what happened.”

Inslee said the sheriff’s department appeared to violate two provisions of voter-approved I-940, which regulates police use of force, including failing to appoint a family liaison officer and not having community members assist with the review.

The sheriff’s department also did not get a statement from a state trooper who was briefly on the scene after Ellis was handcuffed, according to Inslee.

Once state patrol finishes its investigation, the case will be referred to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who will determine whether criminal charges will be filed against the involved officers.

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