Las Vegas Officer Charged With Manslaughter for Choking Tashii Brown to Death

By Sameer Rao Jun 06, 2017

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officer Kenneth Lopera was indicted on two felony charges yesterday (June 5) for killing Tashii Brown, an unarmed Black man, with an unsanctioned chokehold last month.

"Officer Lopera will be charged with involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office," LVMPD sheriff Joseph Lombardo announced during a press conference yesterday. Clark County coroner John Fudenberg told local media that the 40-year-old Brown—whom CBS 8 says also used his mother’s last name, "Farmer"—died of "asphyxia due to police restraint procedures." Lombardo cited Fudenberg’s report when explaining Lopera’s charges, each of which he says carries a maximum sentence of four years.

Lopera, whom Reuters says is White and The Associated Press says "identifies his racial heritage as Colombian and Puerto Rican," choked Brown following a chase at The Venetian casino and hotel on the busy Las Vegas Strip. LVMPD undersheriff Kevin McMahill said at a May 17 press conference that Brown first approached Lopera and his still-unnamed partner at approximately 12:50 a.m. on May 14, while both uniformed officers were in a Venetian coffee shop. An LVMPD statement included McMahill’s incident description at the press conference: 

Farmer was sweating heavily, looked panicked, and stated that people were chasing him. Officer Lopera attempted to speak with Farmer to help him, and Farmer immediately ran away and went through a set of doors into the "employee only" area of the hotel.

Officer Lopera initiated a foot pursuit down the corridor but lost sight of Farmer. The officer caught up with Farmer outside of the hotel in a roadway on the hotel property. Farmer was attempting to open the tailgate of an occupied pickup, but he was unsuccessful. He then ran around to the driver’s side of the truck.

Believing that Farmer was attempting to carjack the citizen, Officer Lopera deployed his Taser, warned Farmer he would tase him, and then discharged the Taser in an attempt to incapacitate him. Though the Taser had immediate effect on Farmer, he was able to overcome the neuromuscular incapacitation and fight with Officer Lopera despite the attempts made to take him into custody.

McMahill showed reporters Lopera’s body camera footage, which starts with Brown’s flight and corresponds with McMahill’s description. The video shows Lopera deploying the Taser seven times—four more than what McCahill said the department sanctions—and telling Brown to get on his stomach while Venetian security guards try to help him. When Brown continues struggling, Lopera uses what he calls a "rear naked choke" for nearly a minute to subdue Brown. The video ends before Brown is taken into custody. McMahill said that the officers called medical personnel and provided aid to Brown when they realized he wasn’t breathing. Brown was taken to a local trauma center, where he was pronounced dead later that morning. The county coroner reported that methamphetamines and an enlarged heart contributed to Brown’s death by asphyxiation.

McMahill noted at the time that Lopera did not use the department-approved lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR). NAACP Las Vegas chapter president Roxann McCoy tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it opposes the use of any chokeholds by LVMPD officers: "When you’re under duress, how do you ascertain what hold you’re using?"

Steve Grammas of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, a union representing the city’s police officers, told the Review-Journal that it paid Lopera’s $6,000 bail soon after his arrest. "We will be representing the officer to the fullest extent that we can," he said. The department put Lopera on unpaid administrative leave as he awaits his first court date, which McClatcy/The Associated Press reports will be in August.

Attorney Andre Lagomarsino told The Associated Press that Brown’s mother Trinita Farmer was hoping for a murder charge against Lopera, and that she wants The Venetian to be held responsible for the actions of its security guards. The Venetian did not respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment. "There will be a time for justice," Lagomarsino said. "That time is coming soon."