Submitted by Larry Seaquist, Candidate for Pierce County Executive.
In a two article series which draws on official documents, Seattle Times investigative journalist Patrick Malone first reveals an alarming, months-long gap between official actions and the facts of the tragic death of Mr. Manuel Ellis.
Headlined “Investigation into Manuel Ellis’ killing by Tacoma police flawed from the start,” Malone’s review of videos and hundreds of pages of emails, police reports and text messages found “flaws, irregularities and previously undisclosed conflicts of interest…adding to the confusion of what actually happened that night.” Malone’s reporting traces a series of statements and actions which had the effect of misleading the public and delaying public disclosure of the facts for months.
More, Malone’s reporting reveals an astonishing decision made by the County Executive just as the county’s corona virus infection rate was starting to climb, to redirect the county’s Emergency Operations Center away from managing the county’s response to the pandemic. Malone: “At noon on June 3, the day Ellis’ autopsy results became public, the county’s Emergency Operations Center shifted its purpose from responding to the pandemic to monitoring protests, including rallies staged to demand answers for the faulty investigation into Ellis’ death.” “Police photographed cars, tracked members of the media, and monitored social media accounts….”
In Malone’s follow-on article, “How Manuel Ellis slipped through the cracks of the mental health system,” we are told that Tacoma police have learned not to expect help from mental health experts when they encounter a person with mental health problems. We also hear Mr. Dammeier repeat his opposition to the “1/10th of 1% tax” which would have added many millions to the county’s funding for mental health services.
In ordinary times, one would expect Mr. Dammeier to resign with the disclosures of actions which, from the reporting, appear to include:
- Failure to correct official statements which falsely claimed Mr. Ellis attacked the police officer;
- Repeated decisions to leave the Medical Examiner under staffed, underfunded, and ill-equipped for his vital role, and to allow the ME’s findings to remain unprocessed and unpublished;
- Failing to disclose to the public — and it appears, even to some of the investigators — the existence of videos and the full facts of the encounter; and
- Redirecting the county’s Emergency Operations Center away from the Covid-19 crisis in order to launch a seemingly unconstitutional effort to surveil hundreds of individual citizens.
One takeaway from these two long, detailed narratives is particularly troubling: As reported, Mr. Dammeier judged on 3 June that the disclosure of the damning autopsy report could precipitate public protests. Rather than responding with understanding, Mr. Dammeier decided to treat the protests as a threat and the protestors as dangerous, going so far as to lock up public buildings and summon the National Guard. This despite the fact that protests precipitated by George Floyd’s death in many places around the county had been admirably peaceful and well-intended.
It is time for the County Council to step in. One investigative reporter’s work is valuable, but proper accountability demands an official investigation leading to immediate corrective action. It is time for the Republican majority on the Council, which heretofore has been in lockstep with Mr. Dammeier, to make sure there is immediate, thorough reform of the practices revealed by the tragic death of Mr. Ellis. We need to see that the white male “Boys Club” in the County Executive’s front office, long concerned with their own political interests, immediately responds with principled concern for the public well being.
We are at a special moment in history when we are all called to meet the highest standards of public service. What we learn in the tragic death of Manuel Ellis is how important are the basics of good government: being honest, being competent, being mindful of the well being of everyone in the community; and that our elected leaders and public officials must act with the highest level of integrity.