You may or may not recall the case from May 14th, 2017. It was about 1 a.m. inside the Venetian hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Officer Kenneth Lopera was having a coffee with another officer in a Venetian café when 40-year-old Tashii Brown approached their table. He asked if they knew where he could find a water fountain. He was sweating profusely.
When Officer Lopera asked why Tashii Brown was sweating so badly, Brown replied that he’d just run across the street because someone was following him. He then asked the officers if they’d escort him to the valet area. The officers agreed.
The Situation Escalates
At that point, Brown started to walk away from them. Officer Lopera asked Brown to come back to him, but Brown began to run off in a paranoid fashion. He entered an employee-only hallway in the Venetian, and Lopera followed. At this point, Lopera’s fellow officer was nowhere in sight. It was simply Lopera chasing Brown through the hallway, then outside to near a pickup truck. All of the chase footage was captured on a bodycam and is easily viewable online, on Youtube.
Officer Believes a Crime is About to Happen
Later, Lopera would state that he believed Brown was trying to get into the truck, which was occupied. However, the occupants reported that they did not believe that to be the case.
Once outside, Lopera warned Brown that he was going to use the stun gun on him. 2 seconds later, he lived up his promise, and Brown fell to the ground writhing in pain. With Brown on the ground outside, Lopera continues to stun him with additional usage of the stun gun. He tells him not to move, but also to roll over—a message which was later deemed in court to be confusing and contradictory.
Brown is heard telling Lopera, “I will,” and “Okay sir,” and “I’m trying to.” He tries putting on a shoe that is loose and reaches for his back to where the taser prongs attached to him. He is clearly confused and out of it, but not acting violently in any way.
Officer Broke Several Metro Rules
According to police reports, in less than one minute’s time, the stun gun was discharged seven times for about five seconds each for six of the occasions, and nine seconds on the last event. This is going against Metro rules and regulations. As well, following the excessive stunning (without enough time in between for Brown to comply) Lopera punches Brown in the head repeatedly and places him in an illegal “rear-naked choke hold.”
Victim Dies After Chokehold is Used
Back up have arrived at this point, and Lopera askes three times, “Is he out yet?” An officer is heard saying, “Let him go.” But Lopera maintains the choke hold for 40 seconds after that, for a total of 78 seconds.
Tashii Brown died of homicide due to asphyxia because of a “police restraint procedure.” Other conditions noted were methamphetamine intoxication and an enlarged heart.
Officer Arrested and Charged
Lopera was arrested on counts of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office. He retired immediately after the incident and was let out of jail on bail. In the arrest report Metro wrote, “Although Officer Lopera did not provide a statement to criminal investigators, it is reasonable to believe that he did not intend to cause death to [Brown]. However, Officer Lopera used his ECD, empty hand strikes, and a chokehold all of which were outside department policy and his training.”
Lopera, 31, could have faced up to eight years in prison if convicted of both charges. It was the first time a police officer in Clark County had faced such charged. Fighting against such serious charges would have required the help of an extremely skilled Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer.
Criminal Charges Not Pursued
However, over the course of the last year, the case evolved. Lopera pleaded not guilty to both charges, and just last week, The Clark County district attorney’s office announced it would stop pursuing all criminal charges against Lopera. A grand jury had decided not to indict him.
“I thank Steve Wolfson for doing the right thing,” said Steve Grammas, president of the union that represents Metro’s rank-and-file officers, after the announcement. The union represented Lopera during the criminal case.
A Stunned Mother and Community
Brown’s mother, on the other hand, remains “shocked and traumatized” by the way her son was killed, and she continues to pursue a federal lawsuit over the death of her son. “As the mother of yet another innocent person killed by a Metro officer, Trinita Farmer is aware of the long history of the DA’s office to refuse to put on a preliminary public hearing in Las Vegas killer-cop cases,” Brown’s mother’s attorney, Andre Lagomarsino, said in a statement.
Lopera’s defense argued that Brown’s drug use and an enlarged heart, coupled with the totality of the event, caused his death.
The grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Lopera cased a small protest outside of Las Vegas City Hall. The group later addressed the City Council. “We don’t understand why he wasn’t indicted,” they told the council.