The Las Vegas police officer who stunned Tashii Brown seven times with a Taser and held him in an unauthorized chokehold for more than a minute before his death last month is now facing criminal charges, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo announced Monday.
At an afternoon news briefing, Lombardo said officer Kenneth Lopera, 31, is facing felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office.
Lopera’s arrest marks the first time in nearly three decades a Metropolitan Police Department officer has faced charges in connection with a police shooting or in-custody death. The sheriff said both charges carry sentences of one to four years in prison.
LVPD Officer, Kenneth Lopera, posted $6,000 bail and was released from jail with a court date scheduled forAugust. Lopera will face the judge for the May 14 choking death of Tashii S. Brown. A man he chase through hallways of a Las Vegas Strip casino and subdued with a choke hole.
Clips of the video from Lopera’s police body-camera and casino security cameras that have been made public show Lopera using a stun gun seven times and punching Brown before placing him in what a top police official described as an unapproved chokehold for more than a minute.
Lopera will plead not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and a second charge of oppression under color of office, Las Vegas Police Protective Association official Steve Grammas said. He could face up to up to eight years in state prison on the two charges.
“Officer Lopera did nothing criminal,” Grammas said. “We prepared him for the worst-case scenario, and it came true.”
Lopera’s arrest came at the same time county Sheriff Joe Lombardo announced to the media that Lopera had been suspended without pay and would be charged following the county coroner’s ruling that Brown’s death was a homicide.
Lombardo said departmental investigations are continuing, and they could take a couple of months to complete.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson didn’t immediately respond to messages.
A lawyer for Brown’s mother, Trinita Farmer, said she had hoped the officer would face a murder charge.
Attorney Andre Lagomarsino said family members from Hawaii and Las Vegas mourned Brown at his funeral last Saturday.
“There will be a time for justice. That time is coming soon,” Lagomarsino said. “At this time the family wants to absorb the information that is coming out” from the coroner and Las Vegas police.
Lagomarsino said Trinita Farmer also wants The Venetian held responsible for the actions of casino security officers who helped Lopera subdue Brown.
A spokesman for the casino declined to comment.
Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said Lopera continued using the Taser despite policy calling for officers to stop after three bursts if it doesn’t have an apparent effect.
Local NAACP leader Roxann McCoy said she wasn’t surprised by the coroner’s ruling.
“After seeing what we saw on the video, I suspected they would find it was a homicide,” McCoy said. “They did choke the man.”
Grammas said experts he has consulted believe the officer employed a carotid artery hold that is the same as a lateral vascular neck restraint that Las Vegas police authorize for officers to use.
Lopera, who Grammas said identifies his racial heritage as Colombian and Puerto Rican, trains in Brazilian jiu jitsu, the police union official said. He is an Army veteran who deployed twice to Afghanistan and worked as a jail guard for three years before becoming a police patrol officer in January 2016.
“The reference of a ‘rear naked choke,’ which is a mixed martial arts hold that the officer said he used, is identical to the LVNR that Metro practices,” Grammas said. “Both are a carotid blood choke that cuts off blood flow to the brain. It’s not a windpipe choke that cuts off the air.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is calling for Las Vegas police to quit the practice.