On Monday, Nevada’s Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said that a police officer, Kenneth Lopera, 31, is facing two felony charges after a martial arts-style choke hold the officer applied to a suspect last month at the conclusion of a chase through The Venetian casino at the Las Vegas Strip resulted in the suspect’s death. Lopera has been suspended without pay, according to Sheriff Lombardo.
ABC News reported that Officer Lopera will be arrested on the charges that he committed “oppression under color of authority,” and that he committed “involuntary manslaughter” in the death of Tashii S. Brown, 40, in Las Vegas. The coroner for Clark County ruled that on May 14, Brown, who also goes by the last name Farmer, was killed by being choked to death.
Security footage shows that Lopera first zapped Brown seven times with a stun gun and punched him before he applied the martial arts-style choke hold. A representative for the police union, Steve Grammas, said that Lopera trains in Brazilian jui jitsu. Grammas is the Las Vegas Police Protective Association’s executive director.
Brown had an enlarged heart, and he was under the influence of methamphetamine, according to Coroner John Fudenberg. According to the New York Times, Sheriff Lombardo said that both were contributing factors in Brown’s death. Fudenberg ruled Brown’s death a homicide, stating it was caused by “asphyxia due to police restraint.”
Sheriff Lombardo said that departmental investigations into Officer Lopera’s role in Brown’s death are ongoing and might continue on for “a couple of months.” Lopera, who has been a police officer in Las Vegas for five years, could be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison if a jury convicts him of the two charges, or four years for each charge. The minimum Lopera would get if he was found guilty of both charges would be two years, a year in state prison for each of the charges.
A lawyer for Trinita Farmer, Andre Lagomarsino, said that last Saturday was Tashii Brown’s funeral. He stated that family members in Las Vegas and from Hawaii attended the funeral and mourned Brown’s passing.
Lagomarsino said that Trinita Farmer not only wants to see justice served by the conviction of Officer Lopera for her son’s murder, she also intends to pursue legal action against The Venetian because of the role the casino security officers played in aiding Officer Lopera in subduing her son.
Officer Lopera encountered Brown at the hotel on May 14 just before 1 a.m. Brown was apparently calling himself Farmer in his conversation with Lopera and his partner. He said that he was being chased, and he was sweating profusely. Before Officer Lopera and his partner could talk with him, Brown ran off.
According to CBS News, Lopera and his partner chased Mr. Brown through a restricted part of the hotel. When Lopera caught up with Brown behind The Venetian, he said he thought that Brown was attempting to carjack a pickup truck there. However, the driver of the pickup truck said he did not think Brown was trying to carjack his truck.
Officer Lopera ordered the suspect to lie down on his stomach, but Brown did not comply with the order. Footage from the casino’s security cameras and Officer Lopera’s body-camera show Lopera, who is described as white by his fellow police officers, then tasing Brown, an unarmed black man, seven times, and punching him in his face. The footage then shows Lopera placing a choke hold for over a minute on Brown. A top police official stated the choke hold was “an unapproved one.”
When other officers responded to the scene, they discovered that Mr. Brown was no longer breathing. The officers attempted to administer first aid to Mr. Brown. Authorities stated that Brown was pronounced dead at a trauma center at 1:39 a.m.
Undersheriff Kevin McMahill stated that Las Vegas Police Department policy is that after three bursts, a police officer should stop tasing a suspect if that does not appear to be having any effect. Tasing did not seem to have an effect on Brown, so Officer Lopera placed “a carotid artery hold” on the suspect. Grammas stated that the hold is the same as one used by the Las Vegas police, “a lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR).”
Grammas stated Officer Lopera said he used a “rear naked choke,” on Brown. Grammas said it, and the LVNR practiced by Metro, are holds that do not cut off air, like windpipe chokes. Instead, they cut off the flow of blood to the brain.
A Las Vegas police officer, Kenneth Lopera, 31, has been charged with two felony counts in connection with the death of a suspect he pursued through The Venetian, Tashii S. Brown, 40. Brown died after being tased seven times, punched in his face, and being placed in a choke hold for over a minute. One organization that is calling for an end to the practice of the Las Vegas police’s use of the LVNR is Nevada’s American Civil Liberties Union. Officer Lopera had been placed on paid leave following Brown’s death. On Monday, he was placed on unpaid leave.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy Las Vegas Metro Police