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September 15, 2019

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Police report: Cop charged in choke death ignored officer who said ‘let him go’

Metro Conference On Death of Unarmed Tashii Brown

This photo taken at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 14, 2017, shows the scene where an unarmed man died after police squeezed his neck during a struggle to subdue him. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which led a push for use-of-force reforms after Las Vegas police were involved in 25 shootings in 2010, said Monday, May 15, 2017, that it will seek a review of the training that allows officers to use what the department calls “lateral vascular neck restrain.” (Billy Winkler via AP)

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Kenneth Lopera

Death of Unarmed Tashii Brown

This photo taken at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 14, 2017, shows the scene where an unarmed man died after police squeezed his neck during a struggle to subdue him. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which led a push for use-of-force reforms after Las Vegas police were involved in 25 shootings in 2010, said Monday, May 15, 2017, that it will seek a review of the training that allows officers to use what the department calls Launch slideshow »

A Metro Police officer charged in the death of a man he’d chased on the Strip did not give the man enough time to comply between stun gun shocks, and he used an unsanctioned chokehold for about 40 seconds after another officer told him to let go, according to an arrest report released Tuesday.

According to Metro policy, officer Kenneth Lopera also did not have probable cause to chase and detain 40-year-old Tashii Brown in the first place, according to the report.

Officers are only allowed to use hand strikes if the “subject is displaying aggressive resistance, that which has to be potential to cause injury or substantial pain,” police said. Brown appeared to be protecting his face and not showing aggression when Lopera punched him 10 to 12 times, according to the report.

Lopera’s numerous “don’t move” and “get on your stomach” commands contradicted each other and the most time Brown had to comply between seven stun gun shocks was six seconds, police said. Officers are instructed to not shock suspects more than three times.

Lopera was arrested Monday afternoon as Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo announced the counts of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office.

The Clark County Coroner’s Office earlier in the day had made public Brown's cause of death, which was homicide due to asphyxia because of a “police restraint procedure.” Other significant conditions were methamphetamine intoxication and an enlarged heart, officials said.

Lopera was released on a $6,000 bond soon after he was jailed.

The arrest report provided more details on what occurred about 1 a.m. May 14 as the incident unfolded.

Lopera and another officer were having coffee at the Venetian when Brown, who also goes by the last name of Farmer, approached them asking if they knew where he could find a water fountain, police said.

Brown was sweating profusely and appeared paranoid, so Lopera asked him why he was sweating so badly, to which he replied that he'd just ran across the street because people were following him, police said.

Brown asked the officers if they could escort him to the valet area and they agreed, but he started to walk away while Lopera tried to get him to come back.

Soon after, Brown took off running through an employee-only area and Lopera chased, police said.

Lopera encountered Brown outside near a pickup truck and warned him he was going to get shocked, employing the stun gun two seconds later, police said.

Lopera later said he thought Brown was trying to enter the truck, which was occupied, police said. But the occupants said they didn't think that was the case.

The encounter was captured on Lopera's body-worn camera and hotel surveillance.

During the incident, Brown is heard telling Lopera, "I will," "OK sir," and "I'm trying to," police said. He twice tried putting on a shoe that'd gone lose and tried reaching for his back where the taser prongs had attached.

In one minute, the stun gun was discharged seven times for about five seconds in six occasions and nine seconds the last, police said. The longest interval between discharges was six seconds.

Lopera punched Brown, who was trying to protect his face, and then put him in a "rear-naked choke," which isn't taught or allowed by Metro, police said.

In the audio from the incident, Lopera asks, "Is he out yet?" three times.

An officer arrives and says, "Let him go Ken" a couple of seconds later. Lopera maintains the hold for 40 seconds after that. The hold lasted a total of 78 seconds.

He's also heard telling one officer, "I tased him, fought a little bit and choked him out." Lopera then tells the officer who he'd been drinking coffee with, "l start punching him. Rear nakeded (sic) his ass. He went out."

The decision to charge Lopera, who's been with Metro for five years, was in consultation with the Clark County District Attorney's Office, Lombardo said. The autopsy report arrived May 31.

Lopera, 31, could face up to eight years in prison if convicted of both charges. It is the first time a police officer in Clark County has faced charges in a use of deadly force case.

Lopera's status with Metro on Monday went from paid administrative leave to unpaid, police said.

Las Vegas Police Protective Association official Steve Grammas said that Lopera will plead not guilty to both charges and that the officer did nothing criminal subduing a combative man who ran through a restricted hotel area.

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 Farmer. However, Officer Lopera used his ECD, empty hand strikes, and a choke hold all of which were outside department policy and his training."