At least two new law enforcement officers have been identified as having participated in restraining, a Black man who died after his airways were restricted in March. The new records were released by the Washington State Patrol on Wednesday.
They identified an off-duty sheriff’s sergeant who helped shove Ellis’ leg to hogtie him while he was handcuffed and prone on the ground and a fifth Tacoma police officer who placed a spit guard over Ellis’ head after he had complained that he could not breathe, the Seattle Times reported.
Officers Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank, Masyih Ford and Timothy Rankine were placed on leave as the investigation into Ellis’ death continues.
The Washington State Patrol named the newly identified officers as Pierce County Sheriff’s Office Det. Sgt. Gary Sanders and Tacoma Police Officer Armando Farina. Neither has faced suspension. Both officers have been classified as witnesses and not as targets of the investigation.
The family’s lawyer, James Bible, told CBS affiliate KIRO-TV that the family was unaware additional officers were involved until now. He also said the report shows that eyewitness videos contradict the police officers’ written recollections of the incident.
“There was a remarkable coverup by the city of Tacoma and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office,” said Bible.
Ellis, 33, was walking home from a convenience store on March 3 with a snack when Tacoma police said they saw him trying to get inside a car as it made a turn. Police said Ellis charged at one officer, lifted him up and violently threw him to the ground, but video of the incident filmed by two witnesses contradicted the police narrative, the Times reported.
Sara McDowell and Samuel Cowden, both of whom drove by and filmed parts of the death, characterized the officers as aggressors. They said and videos indicate Ellis was placed in a chokehold and shocked with a Taser. His head or neck was pinned under an officer’s knee. Neither eyewitness was interviewed during the Sheriff’s investigation, but the two later spoke to state patrol investigators.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office later determined that Ellis’ cause of death was oxygen deprivation caused by restraint and ruled it a homicide.
Tacoma Police Department spokesperson Officer Wendy Haddow said the department would not comment until it has reviewed the investigative records released Wednesday by the state patrol.