Tacoma mayor says she will push for police body cameras following death of Manuel Ellis

TACOMA -- Tacoma leaders, including Mayor Victoria Woodards, came together Monday evening to discuss racial reconciliation and healing during a drive-in event hosted by Tacoma's NAACP, Tacoma's Ministerial Alliance, OURChurch, and Associated Ministries.

Some of the most passionate words during the event came from Mayor Woodards when addressing the March 3 in-custody death of Manny Ellis, ruled a homicide by the medical examiner just last week.

Dozens of cars filled the Cheney stadium parking lot, hanging onto the mayor's every word.

"Although she is a politician, the fact that she said she is a black woman and she is tired as well," said attendee and pastor, Jeffery Jones, recalling a moment of the Mayor's Woodards' speech that really resonated with him. "I think people fail to understand that this is bigger than George Floyd. This is bigger than Manuel Ellis."

Speakers discussed the importance of prayer, peaceful protest, and most significantly - voting.

"This is such a movement, it's revolutionary, it's touching everybody's core," said attendee Pam Bridges.

Her husband, Paris, agreed.

"It's 2020, and I'm 70-something years old and the same thing was going on when I was a kid."

Paris and Pam say they feel this movement might get them closer to the change they fought for decades ago.

Dozens of cars honked their horns in support when Woodards vowed to make changes, starting with pushing for all Tacoma PD officers to wear body cameras.

"We need real reform, we we need to look at every policy we have in place, and we need to look at things differently," said Woodards.

The mayor asked for the crowd to pray for the Ellis family and for the city's police officers. As the crowd also promised to pray for her, the mayor acknowledged it's not easy to speak out against law enforcement in her own city, as she did last week calling for the four officers involved in Ellis's death to be fired.

"We will get due process, I don't know the facts, we will all know the facts at the same time and that will tell what the full outcome will be. What I know now, what I know at this moment, it's hard to speak out ...but Manny Ellis can't speak anymore, and we have to speak out and get that change that he deserves."

The four officers involved in Ellis' death are on administrative leave.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office has been leading the investigation and will present its findings to the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office Wednesday. Once the prosecutor's office makes a decision on whether or not to file charges against officers, the state Attorney General's Office will be given jurisdiction to do an independent review of the case.

Ellis died March 3 after an encounter with officers that Pierce County Sheriff's officials say Ellis pursued, saying he wanted to discuss his warrants.

Sheriff's officials say shortly after, Ellis reportedly assaulted an officer, leading four officers to restrain him. Sheriff's officials and Ellis' family say Ellis was captured on police radio saying, "I can't breathe." Officers said they turned Ellis over on his side and called 911.

Ellis's death was ruled a homicide in earlyJune.  As The Tacoma News-Tribune first reported, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office noted intoxication from methamphetamine and an existing heart condition as contributing factors, but Ellis' death was ultimately ruled a homicide - respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint.

"What they heard was a man on the radio saying, 'I can't breathe. I can't breathe,'" James Bible, the Ellis family's attorney, said. "He ended up dead, and that was at the hands of officers."

Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, the agency tasked with conducting an independent investigation into Ellis' death, insist it was not like the death of Floyd. They said officers did not pin him down with a knee on his neck for minutes on end.

"There was no heads on knees. There was no cutting off of circulation, none of that," Troyer said. "He was handcuffed. He was talking. He was breathing. Then throughout the process, he had trouble breathing and he told people, 'I can’t breathe.' They put him on his side and called for medical aid."