A 33-year-old black man who died in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, screamed “I can’t breathe” on dispatcher audio, a lawyer for the man’s family said.
Marcus Ellis was apprehended by police March 3 when officers allegedly saw him “trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles,” Tacoma police said, according to CNN.
Ellis had to be physically restrained because he was “combative,” police said. The officers called for medical aid when they saw he needed help, according to authorities, but Ellis died at the scene.
Ellis died of respiratory arrest stemming from hypoxia caused by being restrained, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office ruled. Four police officers, two white, one black and one Asian, have not been fired but been placed on administrative leave.
In an audio recording, heard on the website Broadcastify, officers can be heard requesting hobbles — leg restraints — at around 11:26 p.m. About 50 seconds later, as an officer relays a message to the dispatcher, a male voice can be heard in the background exclaiming, “I can’t breathe.”
The family is positive the voice on the recording is their son, lawyer James Bible told CNN.
“This family has listened to it repeatedly over and over again in heartbreaking fashion,” he said.
— Tacoma Action Collective (@tacoma_action) June 4, 2020
After Broadcastify posted the audio, the Tacoma Action Collective posted two videos Friday night that appear to show a black man being struck and pinned down by police.
Bible identified the man as Ellis. It’s not clear if the videos were made before or after the cry of “I can’t breathe” was heard on dispatcher audio, CNN said.
After the videos surfaced, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards called for the four officers to be fired and prosecuted.
The Tacoma Police Union in turn accused her of unfairly passing judgment “without any facts, without an investigation, without due process, and with less than a minute of short, blurry, partial Twitter videos in hand.”
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