officers force

Black Man Dies In Police Custody, Officers’ Lawyers Argue It Was Drug Use

Washington state police officers are on trial for the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died during the use of excessive force.

NBC News reports that three Washington state police officers, Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, and Timothy Rankine, are on trial for the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man. The defense argued on Dec. 12 that Ellis’s death resulted from drug use, not excessive force. The trial is the first since voters removed the requirement to prove police malice in 2018.

“This is a situation where he created his own death,” stated Fricke on the use of excessive force during his closing arguments during the nine-week trial on murder and manslaughter charges for the accused officers. “It was his behavior that forced the officers to use force against him because he created a situation that required them to act.”

Special prosecutor Patty Eakes, from the Washington Attorney General’s Office, urged the jury to compare officers’ statements with videos and witness testimony to assess credibility. Ellis repeatedly said, “Can’t breathe, sir” before his death, reminiscent of the George Floyd case. Eakes played audio clips showing contradictions in officers’ statements.

Jared Ausserer, representing Officer Matthew Collins, argued about witness credibility, questioning why Sara McDowell, who recorded part of the incident, waited three months to come forward. Ausserer also questioned the phones recording the videos, alleging they stopped working after meeting the family’s lawyer.

Eakes countered officers’ claims, pointing out discrepancies. Collins said Ellis threw him into the street, but no witnesses saw it. Videos showed Officer Burbank present despite Collins claiming not to see him. Ellis remained on the ground, with hands in a surrender position, contradicting officers’ statements. Eakes noted contradictions between six witnesses and the officers’ claims.

Fricke argued that officers acted appropriately, responding to Ellis’s resistance. He questioned McDowell’s statement, “Just arrest him,” suggesting something happened before her recording. Fricke emphasized that Burbank followed training and facts, denying any intent for Ellis to die.

“No one wanted him to die, but ultimately he died, and that’s sad,” Fricke said. “We don’t compound that tragedy by convicting innocent people of these charges.”

Ausserer stressed that the officers’ actions were lawful during Ellis’s arrest, citing his assault on a patrol car’s window and resistance. He argued against felony murder charges, stating no felony was committed by the officers.

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