Ex-Tacoma PD officer cleared in Manny Ellis trial hired in Thurston County

UPDATE, APRIL 3, 2024:

Christopher Burbank resigned, citing death threats and community response.

Original story:

Mixed reaction to the news that one of the three officers acquitted in the death of Manny Ellis has now been hired as a Thurston County Sheriff’s deputy.

The news was posted on social media Monday.

The Thurston County Sheriff has talked on camera many times before. But not this time.

So, KIRO 7 asked Thurston County residents how they feel about this former Tacoma police officer patrolling their streets.

In Thurston County, the trial of three Tacoma police officers accused of murdering an unarmed black man must have seemed a world away. So, for some, the news that one of those officers, now acquitted, will soon patrol their streets was news, indeed.

“I guess I’d have to have more facts, you know, to know more,” said Kim Vincent. “You know I can’t just make a judgment off of what the news says, the media, no offense.”

Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Timothy Rankine were accused of repeatedly punching, tasing, kicking and choking Manny Ellis until he died. But after a 10-week trial, jurors acquitted the officers, siding with the defense that Ellis’s drug use and bad heart likely led to his death.

Less than four months later, on April 1, Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders announced on social media he hired Christopher Burbank as a patrol deputy.

The sheriff has spoken out repeatedly on controversial issues. Instead, this time, issuing a written statement.

“While acknowledging the distressing nature of the events in Tacoma four years ago,” Sanders wrote, “we want to emphasize that Deputy Burbank has been cleared of any wrongdoing both by Tacoma PD, Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office and a jury trial.”

There was a mix of reactions to the sheriff’s decision.

“I didn’t know he did that,” said Bruce Medlock. “But I think it’s a great decision because I don’t think they were guilty, the facts that I saw. The facts that I saw. They were not guilty.”

“That’s a no brainer, he shouldn’t,” insisted Keith Buford. “Ain’t no way he should be hired for that position. That’s not fair.”

Even though he a jury acquitted him, he says.

“Even though he was found not guilty, but is that the truth behind all of it though?” Buford said.

A lawyer for the family of Manny Ellis said he initially thought the reports were a “horrific April Fools joke.” He says hiring Burbank could pose legal challenges when the deputy has to appear in court.

We know only that Christopher Burbank has been hired by the Thurston County Sheriff. We do not know when he will actually be patrolling the streets.

He is what is considered a “lateral hire.” So, he won’t have to go through the lengthy police training that a novice would.