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The family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed by police in Washington State two years ago as he pleaded for breath, has now reached a $4 million proposed settlement with one of the two government agencies it named in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Pierce County Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to approve the settlement, The News Tribune reported.
“We are happy to have reached this agreement with the County,” the family’s attorney, Matthew A. Ericksen Sr., said in an email. “By reaching this resolution Pierce County has established a foundation upon which the Ellis family and the community can begin the process of moving forward.”
Ellis’ sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, and mother, Marcia Carter, continue to pursue their federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma and against several individual officers, some of whom have been charged criminally.
Manuel Ellis, like George Floyd, died without provocation.
Manuel Ellis, 33, died March 3, 2020, only weeks before George Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing. Police stopped Ellis while he was walking home from a convenience store with a box of doughnuts and a bottle of water.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are White, with second-degree murder after witnesses reported that 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, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court. The officers involved have pleaded not guilty.
Two Pierce County Sheriff deputies also responded to the scene, including Deputy Gary Sanders, who grabbed Manuel Ellis’ leg and assisted in restraining him while Tacoma police handcuffed and hogtied him. The family’s lawsuit faulted the deputies for not helping Ellis despite clearly being in distress.
His final words — “I can’t breathe, sir!” — were captured by a home security camera, followed by an officer’s reply: “Shut the (expletive) up, man.”
As despicable cases of police brutality and murder are tried throughout American courthouses, many activist groups, communities, and affected families have pushed for a federal solution to the ubiquitous problem of police misconduct.
What about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act?
Americans were first empowered to challenge police misconduct in 1871 when Congress passed a law allowing lawsuits against state and local authorities who refused to protect African Americans from—or even participated in—racial terror lynchings and other acts of racial violence by groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
A recent Reuters investigation found that “qualified immunity, under the careful stewardship of the Supreme Court, has made it easier for officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.”
Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations—like the right to be free from excessive police force—for money damages under federal law so long as the officials did not violate “clearly established” law.
Though simple to define, getting qualified immunity has proven impossible by Congressional means. When asked for comment regarding the failure of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass Bass called on Joe Biden and his administration to “use the full extent of their constitutionally mandated power to bring about meaningful police reform.”
To date, The Biden-Harris Administration has yet to wield its executive powers to bring forth meaningful change to police reform, leaving victims’ families like Manuel Ellis’s to fend for themselves.
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