Vegas officer to face felony charges in man's choking death

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A police officer will face two felony charges for killing an unarmed man with a martial arts-style neck hold after a chase through a Las Vegas Strip casino, the Clark County sheriff announced Monday.

The officer, Kenneth Lopera, was suspended without pay and was due to be arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under color of authority, Sheriff Joe Lombardo said minutes after the county coroner ruled that Tashii S. Brown, 40, was choked to death May 14.

Brown also was zapped with a stun gun and punched by the officer after a chase through restricted areas of The Venetian resort, police have said.

Coroner John Fudenberg said Brown was intoxicated by methamphetamine and had an enlarged heart. But he died of "asphyxia due to police restraint," the coroner said, and the case was ruled a homicide,

Lombardo said departmental investigations are continuing, and could take a couple of months.

Lopera 31, a Las Vegas police officer for five years, could face up to eight years in prison if convicted of both charges.

He is being represented by his police union. Steve Grammas, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, didn't immediately respond to messages after the sheriff's announcement.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson also didn't immediately respond to messages.

Brown also used the name Tashii Farmer. A lawyer for his mother, Trinita Farmer, said she had hoped the officer would face a murder charge.

Attorney Andre Lagomarsino, said Brown's funeral last Saturday provided the family members from Hawaii, and Las Vegas a chance to mourn.

"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.

Casino spokesman Ron Reese did not immediately respond to Lagomarsino's comment.

Clips of video from Lopera's police body-camera and casino security cameras that have been made public show Lopera, who police describe as white, using a stun gun seven times and punching Brown, who is black, before placing him in what a top police official described as an unapproved chokehold for more than a minute.

Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said Lopera continued using the Taser despite a policy that calls for stopping 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 since believe the officer employed a carotid artery hold that is the same as a lateral vascular neck restraint that Las Vegas police use.

Lopera, who Grammas said identifies his racial heritage as Columbian and Puerto Rican, trains in Brazilian jiu jitsu, the police union official said.

"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.