At least two new law enforcement officers were found to have participated in the restraint, a black man who died after his airway was restricted in March. The new records were released on Wednesday by the Washington State Patrol.
They identified an off-duty sheriff sergeant who slid Ellis’ leg to handcuff him while he was handcuffed and lying on the floor, and a fifth Tacoma officer who put a spit guard over Ellis’s head after he himself complained that he could not breathe, reported the Seattle Times.
Officers Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank, Masyih Ford and Timothy Rankine have been on leave while 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 were classified as witnesses and not as targets of investigation.
The family’s attorney, James Bible, told CBS subsidiary KIRO-TV that, as of now, the family was unaware that additional officers were involved. He also said the report shows eyewitness videos contradict the police officers’ written reminders of the incident.
“There was a notable cover-up by the City of Tacoma and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office,” said Bible.
Ellis, 33, was walking home from a supermarket with a snack on March 3 when Tacoma police said they saw him trying to get into a car when it was turning. Police said Ellis charged a police officer, picked him up and forcibly thrown him to the ground, but the video of the incident, filmed by two witnesses, contradicted police accounts, the Times reported.
Sara McDowell and Samuel Cowden, who both drove by and filmed parts of the death, characterized the officers as attackers. They said and videos show that Ellis was put in a choke hold and shocked with a taser. His head or neck was pinned under an officer’s knee. Neither of the eyewitnesses was questioned 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 starvation caused by reluctance and ruled it was murder.
Tacoma Police Department spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said the department would not speak out until it reviewed the investigative material released by the state patrol on Wednesday.