Manny Ellis case: Jury finds 3 Tacoma police officers not guilty for all charges

A jury found three police officers charged in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Tacoma, Washington man who was beaten, shocked and hogtied face down on a sidewalk, not guilty of all charges.

Matthew Collins, 40, and Christopher Burbank, 38, were charged with 2nd-degree murder and 1st-degree manslaughter. They were found not guilty of all counts.

Timothy Rankine, 34, was charged with 1st-degree manslaughter. He was found not guilty.

There was a gasp from the gallery when the first not-guilty verdict was read. Rankine sat forward in his seat and wiped his eyes, while Collins hugged his lawyer.

The City of Tacoma said a press conference would be held at 5:00 p.m. Watch live on FOX 13 News, and the FOX LOCAL app on your smart TV. Watch live in the player above.


Matthew Ericksen, a lawyer representing the Ellis family, said it was hard to convey how devastating the verdict was for the family and community.

"The biggest reason why I personally think this jury found reasonable doubt is because the defense was essentially allowed to put Manny Ellis on trial," Ericksen said via email. "The defense attorneys were allowed to dredge up Manny’s past and repeat to the jury again and again Manny’s prior arrests in 2015 and 2019. That unfairly prejudiced jurors against Manny."

As the sun went down, about 30 people gathered near the Manuel Ellis mural in Tacoma, closing an intersection, chanting, "No justice, no peace."

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office prosecuted the case, said in a statement that he was grateful for the jury, the court and his legal team "for their extraordinary hard work and dedication."

"I know the Ellis family is hurting, and my heart goes out to them," he said.

The Ellis family immediately left the courtroom and planned to speak at a news conference later. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability said in a statement that "the not guilty verdict is further proof the system is broken, failing the very people it should be serving."

Roger Rogoff, director of the state’s recently created Office of Independent Investigations, which is tasked with investigating police shootings, said he did not want to comment directly on the verdict but expressed sympathy for the Ellis family.

"I continue to have empathy and sympathy for the family of Manny Ellis," Rogoff said. "Anybody who loses a child in that way, it’s tragic, and they’re living with that forever. My heart and our office’s heart goes out to them. I also am aware that the law enforcement officers involved are also impacted significantly, and so I am glad that the trial is over for all people involved."

Manuel "Manny" Ellis' death

Ellis died March 3, 2020, nearly three months before George Floyd’s death would spark an international outcry against police brutality.

Ellis was shocked with a Taser, beaten and restrained face down on a Tacoma sidewalk, with police on top of him, as he pleaded for breath. The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’ death a homicide caused by oxygen deprivation, but lawyers for the officers say a high level of methamphetamine in Ellis’ system and a heart irregularity were to blame.


Witnesses — one of whom yelled for the officers to stop attacking Ellis — and a doorbell surveillance camera recorded video of parts of the encounter. The video showed Ellis with his hands up in a surrender position as Burbank shot a Taser at Ellis’ chest and Collins wrapped an arm around his neck from behind. It also caught Ellis addressing the officers as "sir" as he told them repeatedly he couldn't breathe.

This is the first trial of officers charged in a suspect’s death since voters approved a measure in 2018 removing a requirement that prosecutors must prove police acted with malice.

Officers charged with murder, manslaughter

Two of the Tacoma officers — Matthew Collins, 40, and Christopher Burbank, 38, — were charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Timothy Rankine, 34, is charged with manslaughter.

Their trial has been going on for nine weeks.

What sentence did the officers face if convicted?

The standard sentence for second-degree murder is 10 to 18 years.

The standard sentence for first degree manslaughter is 6.5 to 8.5 years.

The max sentence for both charges is life in prison.

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE: Manny Ellis Case and Trial Recap


Defense attorney Jared Ausserer, right, speaks to Tacoma Police officers Matthew Collins, left, and Christopher "Shane" Burbank, center, shortly before their trial in the killing of Manny Ellis, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, at Pierce County Superior Cour

Who is on the jury?

The 12-person jury is made up of five women and seven men; the majority of the jury is white.

Closing arguments

The prosecution

Special prosecutor Patty Eakes, who urged the jury to compare the officers’ statements with videos and witness testimony to determine the officers' credibility. Eakes is prosecuting the case on behalf of the Washington Attorney General's Office.

Eakes played audio clips of the officers' statements and compared them with video and witness testimony to show that they contradicted each other.

Collins stated that Ellis grabbed him by his vest, lifted him off his feet and threw him into the street like a child, despite the fact that he weighs about 230 pounds (104 kilograms) with his gear on, Eakes said.

But none of the witnesses saw that happen and it's not on the videos, she said.

"Is it believable anyway?" Eakes asked. "I suggest to you it's not. This isn't a comic book."

Collins also claimed that, as he held Ellis to the ground, he feared he might be alone in trying to control the suspect because he couldn't see Burbank nearby. But Eakes played a video and displayed screenshots clearly showing Burbank standing right in front of Collins the whole time.

Burbank made similar claims in his statement to investigators. He said Ellis hit him in the mouth, using "wild strikes," and claimed Ellis was "assaultive" the entire time.

But the videos show Ellis' legs never moved while he was on the ground, with Collins on his back, placing him in a chokehold. They also show his hands in the air, with his palms in "a surrender-type position," Eakes said.

The officers' statements were contradicted by six witnesses, she said.

"They make Mr. Ellis out to be violent in ways you don’t see on the video," Eakes said. "Why? They’re justifying the use of force that you can see happened in that video. Do you trust the video? Do you trust what the eyewitnesses say?"

Eakes, on behalf of the Washington Attorney General’s Office, in some of her final remarks and emphasized that the medical examiner knew about Ellis' medical conditions and concluded he died of hypoxia due to physical restraint. The officers should have known he was going in that direction because he repeatedly said he could not breathe.

The defense

Manuel Ellis was addicted to methamphetamine, and it caused him to be violent, unpredictable, and paranoid, said Wayne Fricke, who represents Tacoma police Officer Christopher Burbank.

"This is a situation where he created his own death," Fricke said during closing arguments in the officers' nine-week trial on murder and manslaughter charges. "It was his behavior that forced the officers to use force against him because he created a situation that required them to act."


Manuel "Manny" Ellis

Lawyers for the officers said the videos and witnesses are flawed and the officers acted appropriately.

Witness Sara McDowell, who used her phone to record the early part of the incident, can be heard on the video yelling, "Just arrest him, just arrest him," Fricke said.

"If there’s nothing to arrest him for, why did she say, ‘Just arrest him?’" Fricke asked. "They know something happened before this video kicked in. And once he began resisting arrest, the officers had every means within their power to make an arrest. When he started fighting that arrest, he was resisting arrest. They have an obligation to get him under control and that's what they were trying to do."

Burbank did what he was trained to do and what the facts required him to do, Fricke said.

"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."

In his closing argument, Collins' attorney, Jared Ausserer, urged the jury to question the credibility of the witnesses, including McDowell, who made one of the videos.

"If she was so upset, why did she wait three months to come forward?" he asked. He also questioned why the two phones that recorded the videos stopped working after the phone owners met with the family's lawyer.

The officers can't be found guilty of felony murder if no felony was committed by them, Ausserer said. They made a lawful arrest because Ellis committed assault when he punched the patrol car window and he resisted arrest, he added.

"If there was probable cause, there is no felony and we're done," Ausserer said. "The tragedy of his death doesn’t make the actions of Officer Collins criminal."

Two of the officers' lawyers focused their final arguments on the autopsy report, which said Manuel Ellis had a fatal level of methamphetamine in his system when he died. They also noted that the medical examiner said the spit hood, which was put on by a different officer, "was a significant factor and possibly the most important factor" in his death. The drugs were the cause, the lawyers concluded.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.