(Reuters) – Two Tacoma, Washington, policemen were charged with murder and a third with manslaughter on Thursday in the death of a Black man who was shot with a stun-gun, beaten and restrained by the neck during a 2020 arrest.
Police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins were each charged with second-degree murder in the March 3, 2020, death of Manuel Ellis. Officer Timothy Rankine was charged with first-degree manslaughter.
It was not immediately clear if the officers had been taken into custody as of Thursday afternoon. Reuters could not reach their attorneys for comment.
The charges were issued by Washington’s attorney general, who was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to oversee the case after the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney cited a conflict of interest.
The case marks the first time the Washington Attorney General’s Office has criminally charged police officers for the unlawful use of deadly force.
“This year, I signed more than 12 bills creating the most comprehensive police accountability laws in the nation. It is my fervent hope that we can avoid future incidents and deaths,” Inslee said in a written statement.
Witnesses say Ellis, 33, was walking home from a store with water and a box of donuts when Burbank knocked him to the ground with the door of his squad car, then tackled and beat him.
Video footage taken by witnesses show Collins restraining Ellis by the neck as Burbank fires his stun gun into the prone man’s chest.
All three officers held Ellis to the ground and handcuffed him as he called out “I can’t breathe!”, prosecutors said in their statement. He was declared dead at the scene, they said.
Pierce County’s medical examiner found that Ellis, who had methamphetamine in his system, died from a lack of oxygen due his restraint by officers.
Ellis’ death touched off protests in Tacoma by activists who said it marked the latest case of police brutality against Black men.