Police Officer Files $47 Million Lawsuit Claiming Racial Bias After Acquittal In Fatal Arrest Of A Black Man

One of three former Tacoma police officers acquitted of manslaughter last year in the fatal arrest of Manuel Ellis has filed a $47 million lawsuit against city and state officials. Timothy Rankine, who is Asian American, alleges that his reputation was destroyed after being falsely accused of racism and criminal misconduct.

In March 2020, Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died after being brutally beaten, shocked with a taser, and restrained in a chokehold by officers, including Rankine. The Pierce County medical examiner determined Ellis’s death was a homicide due to oxygen deprivation. Rankine testified during the trial that he pressed down on Ellis’s back as Ellis pleaded to breathe.

The trial, which lasted over two months, concluded in December with the acquittal of Rankine and his co-defendants, Matthew Collins and Christopher “Shane” Burbank. Both Collins and Burbank, who are white, faced additional charges of second-degree murder. 

Rankine, however, was only charged with first-degree manslaughter. Following his acquittal, Rankine resigned from the Tacoma Police Department in January, accepting a $500,000 settlement, a move criticized by Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore for not serving the best interests of the department or the community.

Rankine’s lawsuit claims that Attorney General Bob Ferguson and other officials incited “racially motivated hatred” against him, damaging his reputation and making it impossible for him to find new employment in law enforcement. Rankine’s attorney, Joan Mell, argues that Rankine has been effectively blackballed from the profession due to discriminatory actions by leadership, which created a hostile work environment.

During the trial, defense attorneys argued that Ellis died from methamphetamines he had taken and an enlarged heart, not from the officers’ actions. However, multiple witnesses testified that Burbank and Collins were the aggressors and overpowered Ellis during the struggle. 

The jury was left stagnant as they debated whether or not to convict Collins and Burbank of negligent manslaughter, according to court records released after the trial.

Furthermore, the lawsuit filed by Rankine is not the only legal action stemming from Ellis’s death. The Ellis family filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and the city of Tacoma in September 2021, which is still pending. The family had previously accepted a $4 million wrongful death settlement from Pierce County, which initially investigated Ellis’s death.

The investigation by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office faced criticism for failing to disclose that one of its own deputies was involved in restraining Ellis, leading to federal scrutiny and the creation of a new independent office to investigate police misconduct in the county.

Ellis’s death, occurring shortly before the killing of George Floyd, received less national attention but remains significant as the first test of Washington’s Initiative 940. This law, approved in 2018, aimed to make it easier to prosecute police officers accused of excessive force by eliminating the requirement that prosecutors prove officers acted with actual malice and mandating independent investigations.

Timothy Rankine’s lawsuit highlights the ongoing tensions and complexities in addressing police conduct and officers taking accountability for their actions. 

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