WSP to take over investigation of black man’s killing by Tacoma police

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington State Patrol will take over the investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis, a black man who died while in Tacoma police custody, Governor Inslee announced Wednesday.

Inslee made the decision after learning a deputy with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, which has been leading the investigation up until now, was present the night he died. 

Under Initiative 940, law enforcement agencies cannot investigate themselves. The sheriff’s office had previously taken over the investigation into the Tacoma Police Department. 

Ellis died on March 3 while in Tacoma police custody. According to an attorney for Ellis’ family, he could be heard on dispatcher audio screaming, “I can’t breathe.” 

READ: Black man who died while in police custody could be heard screaming ‘I can’t breathe’ on dispatcher audio

“This is the best way to give the Ellis family and the entire community the thorough, fair and independent investigation this case demands,” Inslee said. “We must all demand that level of accountability.”

According to a release, by not appointing community members to review the team of investigators, the sheriff’s office also failed to meet some I-940 provisions. Ellis’ family was also never appointed a liaison, Inslee said. 

Inslee did say a WSP trooper was at the scene after Ellis had been handcuffed, but that trooper will not be involved in the investigation.