Christopher Burbank, 35, and Matthew Collins, 38, were charged with second-degree murder and Timothy Rankine, 32, was charged with first-degree manslaughter, the state attorney general’s office announced.
Witnesses reported seeing Burbank and Collins, who are both white, randomly attacking Ellis on the night of March 3, 2020, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court.
Rankine, who is described as Asian in the court documents, is accused of putting pressure on Ellis’ back as he said he couldn’t breathe.
Ellis, a 33-year-old dad of two was tasered, handcuffed and hogtied, with his face covered by a spit hood.
His final words — “I can’t breathe, sir!” — were captured by a home security camera.
“Ellis was not fighting back,” the filing says. “All three civilian witnesses at the intersection … state that they never saw Ellis strike at the officers.”
The county medical examiner ruled that his death was a homicide, due to lack of oxygen from being restrained, with an enlarged heart and meth intoxication as contributing factors.
Burbank and Collins allegedly said that they spotted Ellis trying to get into occupied cars at a red light — and claimed that he had punched their cruiser’s window and attacked them as they got out, according to statements from other cops cited in the charging documents.
Warning: Graphic language
But two witnesses who recorded parts of the fatal encounter both said that the police attacked without provocation.
An officer in the passenger side of the patrol car slammed his door into Ellis, knocking him down, and then jumped on him and started beating him, they said.
Arrest warrants have been issued for the three charged officers, who have been on paid administrative leave since June. It was not immediately clear if they had been taken into custody.
The officers could face up to life in prison if convicted, but the standard sentencing range is 10 to 18 years for second-degree murder with no prior criminal history, and 6.5 to 8.5 years for manslaughter.
The case marks the first time the state attorney general’s office has charged police officers with unlawful use of deadly force.
Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately return messages seeking comment from the Associated Press.