Council approve settlement to Ellis family

The Pierce County Council approved a $4 million settlement to the family of Manuel Ellis, a black man killed by Tacoma police officers two years ago.
Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, just weeks prior to George Floyd’s death while being arrested by Minneapolis police, which triggered nationwide protests and rioting. Police stopped Ellis while he was walking home from a convenience store with a box of doughnuts and a bottle of water.

“Today the Pierce County Council approved a $4,010,000 settlement agreement reached with the family of Manuel Ellis,” the council said in a March 22 statement. “No monetary value will ever compensate for the loss or heartache Mr. Ellis’ family and loved ones experienced over the last two years, nor will it stop the Ellis family or community from grieving his death. With the adoption of this settlement, council is ending Pierce County’s involvement with the lawsuit. Council hopes our community will continue to heal, move forward stronger, and remain committed to making Pierce County a safe, just place for all.”

The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide due to a lack of oxygen caused by restraint, with an enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication as contributing factors.

Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are white, have been charged with second-degree murder based on witnesses reporting they attacked Ellis without provocation.

Officer Timothy Rankine, who is Asian, faces a charge of first-degree manslaughter. He is accused of kneeling on Ellis’ back and shoulder as Ellis repeatedly told them he couldn’t breathe, per a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court. The officers have pleaded not guilty.

Two Pierce County Sheriff deputies also responded to the scene. They assisted in restraining Ellis while Tacoma police handcuffed and hogtied him. The family’s lawsuit faulted the deputies for not helping Ellis despite his pleas for help.

In other action, by a 6-1 vote, the council passed an ordinance amending the Pierce County Code having to do with signs in unincorporated Pierce County. The ordinance was in response to the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, that held temporary non-commercial sign regulations of a local sign code violated the First Amendment because they were content based and did not survive strict scrutiny.

Council Chair Derek Young explained the council was reacting to the Supreme Court ruling, noting the ongoing problem of signs as visual eyesores and a form of pollution.

“But in addition, we also have to be realistic about what we can accomplish through our code enforcement,” he said. “Right now, we’re not able to respond even to basic things such as, you know, large numbers … of dangerous public nuisances.”

Marty Campbell was the lone no vote, saying the numerous amendments to the ordinance meant it was not thoroughly vetted and should be discussed further.

“We do want a pathway for signs on private property,” he said. “This is entirely where this comes from. But I don’t think we got it right.”


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