Another Man Who Said ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Died in Custody. An Autopsy Calls It Homicide.

Another Man Who Said ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Died in Custody. An Autopsy Calls It Homicide.

SEATTLE — A black man who called out “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody in Tacoma, Wash., was killed as a result of oxygen deprivation and the physical restraint that was used on him, according to details of a medical examiner’s report released on Wednesday.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the death of the man, Manuel Ellis, 33, was a homicide. Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department were in the process of preparing a report about the March death, which occurred shortly after an arrest by officers from the Tacoma Police Department, said the sheriff’s spokesman, Ed Troyer.

“The information is all being put together,” Detective Troyer said. “We expect to present it to the prosecutor at the end of this week or early next week.”

Mr. Ellis died from respiratory arrest, hypoxia and physical restraint, according to the medical examiner’s office. The report listed methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as contributing factors.

Police officers encountered Mr. Ellis, a musician and father of two from Tacoma, on the night of March 3 as they were stopped at an intersection. They saw him banging on the window of another vehicle, Detective Troyer said.

Mr. Ellis approached the officers, Detective Troyer said, and then threw an officer to the ground when the officer got out of the vehicle. The two officers and two backup officers who joined — two of them white, one black and one Asian — handcuffed him.

“Mr. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combative,” the Tacoma Police Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

Detective Troyer said he did not know all the details of the restraint the officers used — they were not wearing body cameras — but said he did not believe they used a chokehold or a knee on Mr. Ellis’s neck. They rolled him on his side after he called out, “I can’t breathe.”

“The main reason why he was restrained was so he wouldn’t hurt himself or them,” Detective Troyer said. “As soon as he said he couldn’t breathe, they requested medical aid.”

Detective Troyer said the call for aid came four minutes after the officers encountered Mr. Ellis.

Mr. Ellis was still breathing when medical personnel arrived, Detective Troyer said. He was removed from handcuffs while personnel worked on him for about 40 minutes, Detective Troyer said. He was then pronounced dead.

Family members said Mr. Ellis was the father of an 11-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. He was a talented musician at his church. The family said it was heartbroken and angry by his death.

“While we are in immense pain, we rest our hope in the community of committed freedom fighters that we are now joining,” the family said. They were holding a vigil for Mr. Ellis on Wednesday night.

Brian Giordano, a close friend of Mr. Ellis, said that the two usually spoke several times a day and that Mr. Ellis had videochatted with him two hours before his death. He had been excited about a church service he had attended and proud of how he had played drums during the service, Mr. Giordano recalled.

He said it would be uncharacteristic of Mr. Ellis to act in the violent way described by the police.

He was living in a clean-and-sober house and was getting his life back together, he said. “He was always uplifting,” Mr. Giordano said. “He was always on the up-and-up about taking care of people.”

The death comes as protests have spread around the nation over the case of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police last week. Minnesota officials have charged all four officers in that case, including Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during the arrest.

Forensics experts who conducted a private autopsy for Mr. Floyd’s family concluded that another officer’s knees on Mr. Floyd’s back contributed to making it impossible for his lungs to take in sufficient air.

Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma said on Wednesday that she would take appropriate steps based on the findings of the sheriff’s investigation.

“We will learn the results of that investigation even as our country reels from the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others,” Ms. Woodards said.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said the issue was a top priority for him.

“We will be pushing to make sure there is a full and complete investigation of that incident,” Mr. Inslee said.

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