TACOMA, Wash. (KIRO/CNN) – A Washington medical examiner has officially ruled the death of a man in police custody as a homicide.
Police say Manuel Ellis died in March while he was in handcuffs and restrained on the ground by officers.
His family is now calling for justice.
“The whole globe is going to know about Manuel Ellis. They’re going to know about what happened here in Tacoma, Washington on March 3,” Monet Carter-Mixon, Ellis’s sister, said.
Friends and family described Ellis as a good-hearted, family-loving, loyal friend, who had been clean and sober after bouts with addiction.
“Any time I lost faith in anything, he’s the one I called,” Ellis’s best friend Brian said.
This week, the Pierce County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide from lack of oxygen due to physical restraint the night he was in police custody.
He can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” during a 911 call.
Ed Troyer, with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, said Ellis attacked officers, who restrained him and then called in paramedics.
“There was no heads on knees, there was no cutting off circulation, none of that,” Troyer said. “He was handcuffed, he was talking, he was breathing, and throughout the process he had trouble breathing, and he told people, ‘I can’t breathe.’”
Those who knew Ellis don’t believe he had attacked officers.
“He’s the type to lay down and get out of the way of the cops,” Brian said. “He’s not the type to fight them.”
Officials had said Ellis had drugs in his system and that may have played a role in his alleged behavior the night he died. However, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical arrest.
The Tacoma mayor spoke out on Thursday about Ellis’ death.
“I want to say to the Ellis family… I’m sorry. Our city is sorry,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said.
Prosecutors are now reviewing the case and will determine whether criminal charges are warranted or if the officers acted lawfully.