Later, Mr. Ellis was walking home after getting a late-night snack at a 7-Eleven when he came upon Mr. Burbank and Mr. Collins sitting in their police car, prosecutors said. Mr. Ellis stopped and spoke briefly to the officers in an encounter that witnesses described as peaceful and respectful, prosecutors said. Mr. Ellis then began to walk away, they said.
According to witnesses, Mr. Burbank swung open the passenger door, hitting Mr. Ellis from behind and knocking him to his knees. The two officers then got out of the vehicle, slammed Mr. Ellis down, and repeatedly struck him in the face, prosecutors said. Mr. Collins then placed Mr. Ellis in a chokehold, and Mr. Burbank pointed a Taser at his chest, prosecutors said. Though Mr. Ellis put up his hands in attempt to surrender, the officers “continued to escalate the incident,” prosecutors said. Mr. Burbank then fired the Taser at Mr. Ellis three times, they said.
Mr. Rankine, who was among a group of officers who responded as backup, joined the other two officers in restraining Mr. Ellis, who, according to prosecutors, was pinned to the ground, not resisting, and by this stage, was struggling to breathe. On a nearby doorbell camera, Mr. Ellis is heard saying: “Can’t breathe, sir. Can’t breathe!” As the officers continued to pin Mr. Ellis to the ground, they hogtied him and placed a hood over his head, prosecutors said. He remained in that position for six to nine minutes until the Fire Department arrived, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, prosecutors said.
The Pierce County medical examiner ruled Mr. Ellis’s death a homicide, caused by oxygen starvation because of to physical restraint, with methamphetamine intoxication and a heart condition as contributing factors. Defense lawyers argued that the latter two factors had caused Mr. Ellis’s death.
The Ellis family last year settled a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against Pierce County, which is home to Tacoma, for $4 million, according Mr. Ericksen. A wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma and the officers is still pending, he added.