On the evening of March 3rd, 33-year-old, Manuel Ellis was playing drums at his church. He typically did this four nights a week and he was talented. In addition to drums he could play piano and keyboard. Manuel, or Manny as he liked to be called, was a father and uncle. He had an 18-month-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. He also had a methamphetamine addiction he was trying to kick. His faith and participation in church was helping him do that.
After playing drums at the church revival, he was feeling a lot of joy. He called his sister, his brother, and his mother to share how good he was feeling. At the end of his phone call with his mother he said, “Remember I love you.”
He spent the rest of the evening hanging out with his landlord and her husband until just before 11pm when he decided to go to the convenience store to get some snacks. What happened over the course of the next half hour is heavily disputed.
We know that Manny was high on methamphetamines. We know that members of the Tacoma Police Department made contact with Manny at 11:22pm near South 96th and Ainsworth. And we also know that Manny Ellis was dying within two minutes of police officers making contact with him.
Police claim that Manny was banging on a woman’s car window, trying to open parked car doors, and hit their car with his hands as well. They claim that he was suffering from a state called ‘excited delirium’ which is said to induce sudden acts of violence, unusual strength, and heightened temperature. They claim that when one officer got out of the car, Manny threw the officer to the ground. None of these claims have been substantiated. The autopsy makes no note of any signs of heightened delirium and though Manny’s toxicology report does show a high amount of methamphetamines in his system, the medical examiner says this was not the cause of death.
When police made contact with Manny, they used a Taser within the first minute striking him in the chest. They restrained him using handcuffs, a mouth hood to prevent biting or spitting, and a canvass strap to restrain his legs. Manny can be heard on police radio saying he couldn’t breathe at 11:23pm. Officers requested medical aid at 11:25pm, just three minutes after making contact with him. Within a minute of the fire department showing up, Manny Ellis was unconscious and had stopped breathing.
Paramedics spent 40 minutes using CPR and other life-saving procedures to try to save him, but Manny was pronounced dead at 12:12am. Later the Medical Examiner would confirm that Manny died of hypoxia due to restraint.
Manny Ellis is the fourth Tacoma homicide this year. He is also the fourth Tacoma homicide in the last two years committed by Tacoma police officers. The similarities between the death of Manuel Ellis and the death of George Floyd who also died in police custody due to careless restraint techniques are disturbing. Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and others have called for the charging and firing of the four officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis, but no charges have yet been filed.
There have been multiple protests in the wake of Manny’s death. A local business near my office has his name spray painted on the plywood covering one of their windows. Homicides like Manny’s are the reason for the need and popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement.
What is sometimes lost in more heavily publicized murders is the loss of life on a more personal level. Manny had two children. His 18-month-old daughter will likely retain no memories of her father. His 11-year-old son will never get to have the adult friendship with his father that I so cherish with my own son. Manny helped raise his sister’s kids. They have lost a close and loving uncle. His mother has lost a son. His friends never get to hear Manny’s laugh again. Manny’s death doesn’t just have a political impact. The loss of Manny, like the loss of anyone will echo through the lives he touched for decades. It’s a loss that cannot be calculated. And I say that as someone who counts homicides in Tacoma.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Manuel Ellis. His family has a GoFundMe campaign to help them get through this.
As always, the comments section is moderated (meaning each comment is approved by me before it shows up) and is reserved for those who personally knew Manny and who want to share thoughts or memories of him.