More than a hundred people marched through the streets of Tacoma last night after a jury cleared three of the city’s police officers of the murder of Manuel “Manny” Ellis. Rally organizers called on the crowd to stay engaged and show up at the next Tacoma City Council meeting (Tuesday, January 2) to pressure the city and police chief to fire the cops from the Tacoma Police Department (TPD). Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore promised he would make a final disciplinary decision on what to do with the officers within two weeks of the verdict. 

Tacoma City Council Member-Elect Jamika Scott, an organizer with Tacoma Action Collective, watched the trial more days than not. She said she'd hoped the jury would at least convict the officers on lesser manslaughter charges, which would be enough to prevent them from continuing to work as cops. But, the verdict means the Ellis family must keep fighting for someone to take action against the officers, dragging out a battle for justice that has already required the family to conduct their own investigation into Ellis’s death after the flawed Pierce County Sheriff’s investigation.

The Washington Attorney General's Office brought charges against Tacoma Police Officers Matthew Collins, Christopher “Shane” Burbank, and Timothy Rankine in 2021 after a member of the public showed Ellis’s sister, Monét Carter-Mixon a video that contradicted officer statements about what happened the night her brother died. Video evidence showed Ellis telling cops he couldn’t breathe. Prosecutors said Collins and Burbank mounted an unprovoked attack against Ellis, ignored his pleas for air, and that the spit hood the officers used, combined with their putting him in a hogtie, suffocated him. Rankine, who arrived as backup after Collins and Burbank had Ellis on the ground, sat on Ellis’s back while Ellis was handcuffed. The medical examiner ruled Ellis’s death a homicide by oxygen starvation due to physical restraint.

Attorneys for the police officers spoke with jurors after the verdict and told the Tacoma News Tribune that jurors argued about the cause of death and doubted the credibility of the civilian witnesses who testified about what they saw that night. The ACLU, Governor Jay Inslee, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson all released statements reacting to the verdict. Immediately after the verdict, Carter-Mixon, Ellis’s mother, and the family’s attorney, James Bible, joined the crowd gathered to rally after the verdict, with Carter-Mixon leading people through the streets. Carter-Mixon blocked the Sound Transit trolley at one point, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. About two hours after the verdict, a crowd of about 50 people had gathered under Ellis’s mural at 1012 South 11th Street. The crowd continued to grow, even after Ellis’s family decided to head home for the night, as Scott and other members of Tacoma Action Collective remained to meet the steady stream of people showing up to voice outrage with the verdict.

Organizers called for other people affected by police violence to come up and speak, including Castill Hightower, whose brother was shot and killed by Seattle police in 2004. Appalled and disheartened by the verdict, Hightower said the verdict didn’t surprise her, but she’d hoped for a different result. She empathized with the fear that the Tacoma police officers would remain with TPD, as Seattle Police Officer Steve Hirjak stayed with SPD even after killing Hightower’s brother, Herbert Hightower. More people spoke for several hours as the crowd swelled to about a hundred people, and at that point, organizers gathered people into a group to march through Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, chanting “jail killer cops” and yelling Ellis’s name.