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Construction boss pays $300,000 to free three cops charged with spit hood murder of Manuel Ellis

A construction company boss paid $300,000 to bail three Tacoma cops charged with the murder and manslaughter of a black man who died with a spit hood on his head.

Josh Harris, owner of local Tacoma business Integrity Construction Group, posted bond for Officers Christopher Burbank, 35, Matthew Collins, 38, and Timothy Rankine, 32, Friday. 

Harris said he didn’t want the ‘highly decorated veterans’ to be stuck behind bars over Memorial Day weekend. 

The trio are charged over the March 2020 killing of Manuel Ellis, 33, who died after officers pinned him to the ground and put a spit hood over his head as he said ‘I can’t breathe, sir.’

Harris said he had worked with the cops on multiple occasions, and that they sometimes patrolled the area around his construction firm. 

He told KIRO he does not know the officers personally but he attended their court appearance Friday where bail was set at $100,000 each. 

All three cops were charged with first-degree manslaughter, while Burbank and Collins were also charged with second-degree murder last Thursday – 14 months on from Ellis’ death.  

Ellis, a 33-year-old black father-of-two, died on March 3 2020 during an arrest as he was walking home from a convenience store with a snack. 

The Pierce County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and said it was caused by lack of oxygen from being restrained.

Josh Harris, pictured, has paid $300,000 bail to free the three Tacoma cops charged with the murder and manslaughter of Manuel Ellis

Harris, owner of local Tacoma business Integrity Construction Group, posted bond for Officers Christopher Burbank, 35, Matthew Collins, 38, and Timothy Rankine, 32,(left to right during their arraignments Friday)

Harris, owner of local Tacoma business Integrity Construction Group, posted bond for Officers Christopher Burbank, 35, Matthew Collins, 38, and Timothy Rankine, 32,(left to right during their arraignments Friday)

Harris told Fox 6 he wanted to put up the money to free the officers because they were veterans and because he has the funds to do so. 

‘Being the fact that they were veterans, highly decorated veterans, I wasn’t about to see them sit in jail over Memorial Day weekend,’ he said. 

‘We’re blessed. I had the funds available to do it. I know several people have offered to step up and reimburse me and if that happens great, but that’s not the intention.’ 

All three officers previously served in the Army. Collins and Burbank had each served eight years in the Army before joining the Tacoma Police Department four years before Ellis’ death.

Rankine served six years in the Army and worked two years as a security contractor for the US State Department before joining the department in 2018.

Harris said the bond money was ‘really nothing’ compared to what he said the three cops and their families are dealing with.

‘Compared to what these guys were up against right now is really nothing. Their families are highly affected and their friends are highly affected and their department is highly affected,’ said Harris. 

Harris told the outlet he had received hate calls and messages since it became public that he was the man behind the bond payments.  

He said he learned about a flier circulating calling him a fascist but insisted ‘everyone that knows me knows that I’m all about the community, I’m all about giving back.’ 

Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old father-of-two, died of oxygen deprivation on March 3 after being pinned to the ground by cops and having a spit hood put over his head as he walked home from a convenience store with a snack

Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old father-of-two, died of oxygen deprivation on March 3 after being pinned to the ground by cops and having a spit hood put over his head as he walked home from a convenience store with a snack 

The businessman called for the community to let the court process play out. 

‘We have due process and we need to let that play out and people need to take a deep breath and relax and sit back and let the courts figure things out,’ said Harris. 

‘Let everything, all the evidence be brought out and that the truth will lay out there and a decision will be made and people need to respect that decision.’ 

Harris had posted photos on social media from inside the courtroom Friday, writing that ‘the truth will set them free’. 

Integrity Construction Group is a full service contractor that provides repair, development and remodeling to residential and commercial properties. It is based in Tacoma, south Washington. 

Burbank, Collins and Rankine walked free from Pierce County Jail at the same time Friday afternoon after the bail was posted.

They had each pleaded not guilty to their charges during a virtual court appearance where prosecutors had urged the judge to set their bail at $1 million.  

They all remain on paid administrative leave with the police department. 

The charges against the officers marks the first time the Washington Attorney General’s Office has criminally charged police officers for the unlawful use of deadly force. 

Harris told Fox 6 he didn't want the 'highly decorated veterans' to be stuck behind bars over Memorial Day weekend

Harris told Fox 6 he didn’t want the ‘highly decorated veterans’ to be stuck behind bars over Memorial Day weekend

The local businessman said the cops sometimes patrolled the area around his construction firm

He said he does not know the officers personally

The local businessman said the cops sometimes patrolled the area around his construction firm. He told KIRO he does not know the officers personally

Harris attended their court appearance Friday where bail was set at $100,000 each. He posted from inside the courtroom writing that 'the truth will set them free'

Harris attended their court appearance Friday where bail was set at $100,000 each. He posted from inside the courtroom writing that ‘the truth will set them free’

If convicted, given their lack of criminal history, Burbank and Collins could face up to 18 years in prison, and Rankine could spend more than eight years behind bars.

Both offenses carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. 

Prosecutors said in court documents Thursday that Burbank and Collins ‘tackled and struck Ellis multiple times, applied an LVNR (Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint) on Ellis, and shot him with a taser three times, all without justification.’  

Their ‘felonious assault and/or unlawful imprisonment of Ellis’ resulted in his death, the documents state.

They also hogtied the black man and failed to administer urgent medical aid.  

The documents say Rankine continued to hold Ellis in a prone position and apply pressure to his back even after he told the officers he could not breathe. 

The charges come more than one year after Ellis’ death and come after questions have been mounting over the handling of the investigation. 

Ellis died on March 3 2020 but his case gained attention three months later, after the release of bystander footage of his death and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. 

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Memorial Day when white cop Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes while he begged for air saying ‘I can’t breathe.’ 

Chauvin was convicted of murder in April and is awaiting sentencing. 

Police claimed Ellis had been the aggressor and that they saw him trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles at a red light. 

They said he then charged at an officer as they exited a police car and had to be restrained. 

But bystander footage and witness accounts cast serious doubt on this version of events.

Witnesses said they saw Burbank and Collins attack Ellis without provocation, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court. 

An officer sitting in the passenger side of a patrol car slammed his door into Ellis, knocking him down, and then jumped on him and started beating him, they said. 

‘Ellis was not fighting back,’ the probable cause statement said. ‘All three civilian witnesses at the intersection… state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.’ 

Footage of Ellis’ arrest was posted on Twitter by the Tacoma Action Collective, a racial justice group, last June.     

Footage of Ellis' arrest was posted on Twitter by the Tacoma Action Collective last June. Officers are pictured in footage from the video aggressively trying to restrain Ellis

Footage of Ellis’ arrest was posted on Twitter by the Tacoma Action Collective last June. Officers are pictured in footage from the video aggressively trying to restrain Ellis

Ellis seen in the video on the ground, kicking at the officers in the footage shot by the witness from her vehicle n the witness video, a woman filming the arrest from her car is heard yelling out to the officers to stop

Ellis seen in the video on the ground, kicking at the officers in the footage shot by the witness from her vehicle n the witness video, a woman filming the arrest from her car is heard yelling out to the officers to stop

The footage later shows the officers restraining Ellis as the witness drives by

In the witness video, a woman filming the arrest from her car is heard yelling out to the officers to stop as they are seen throwing punches at Ellis, who is on the ground and kicking at them. 

‘Hey! Stop! Oh my God! Stop hitting him. Stop hitting him. Just arrest him. Just arrest him,’ the unidentified woman pleaded from her vehicle, before a man, also not identified, distracts her from outside.

The officers are later seen in the footage holding down the man as the woman drives past them.  

When the footage surfaced, protests erupted in Seattle demanding justice for Ellis and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards called for a full investigation and for the officers involved to face immediate firing. 

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department botched the investigation when it failed to disclose for three months that one of its deputies had responded.

When this conflict of interest surfaced, the Sheriff’s Department was disqualified from its role as the independent investigating agency.    

The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis' (above) death a homicide

The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Ellis’ (above) death a homicide

The Washington State Patrol took over, and the Attorney General’s Office conducted its review based on evidence gathered by the patrol. 

Ellis’s family, who believe he was murdered, have accused law enforcement of a cover up after it emerged in January – 10 months on from his killing – that two additional officers were involved in the restraint that led to his death. 

Collins, Burbank, Rankine and a fourth officer – Masyih Ford – had previously been named by authorities. 

Authorities then revealed a fifth officer – Tacoma Police Officer Armando Farina -placed a spit hood over Ellis’ head after he told the officers he couldn’t breathe.

And Pierce County Sheriff’s Office Det. Sgt. Gary Sanders, who was off duty at the time, was also named for the first time.

He helped to shove the 33-year-old’s leg into a hobble to hogtie him while he lay handcuffed and prone on the pavement.  

Ellis’ family said they were unaware any other Tacoma Police officers were involved before then.   

Governor Jay Inslee also waded in to the case in the summer ordering an impartial investigation by the Washington State Patrol and taking it away from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department on learning of the department’s sergeant’s involvement.  

Inslee this month signed one of the nation’s most ambitious packages of police accountability legislation, including outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants. 

The legislation also makes it easier to decertify police for bad acts – and creates an independent office to review deadly force cases. 


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