Thursday, July 26, 2018 | 8:02 p.m.
A grand jury today decided against indicting former Metro Police officer Kenneth Lopera, who is accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death last year of an unarmed man on the Strip, according to the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.
Lopera repeatedly punched Tashii Brown on the head and put him in a neck restraint outside a Strip property, even when his partner instructed him to stop.
Due to the secretive nature in a grand jury process, details available were limited, but today’s decision is seemingly a considerable hurdle cleared by Lopera and his legal team in the criminal case.
It wasn’t immediately clear what legal maneuver, if any, prosecutors will employ next. The Clark County District Attorney’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
More could come to light Aug. 2 during a hearing in Las Vegas Justice Court, where Lopera is still facing one count each of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under color of office in the May 7, 2017, incident. Lopera could face up to eight years in prison if convicted on the two felonies. Metro initially placed Lopera on unpaid administrative leave; he later retired.
“We’re hopeful that the district attorney will accept the grand jury’s decision, dismiss the case in justice court, and in the effort to provide transparency to the community, present this entire case to the public police fatality review,” said David Roger, Lopera’s attorney.
Brown, 40, died of asphyxiation after encounter outside the Venetian in which Lopera shocked him seven times with a stun gun, punched him and placed him in a “rear-naked choke,” which wasn’t taught or allowed by Metro, for over a minute, according to police.
The deadly encounter was captured on police-worn cameras and casino surveillance.
“After killing my son in public, the grand jury secretly exonerated Lopera,” said Brown’s mother, Trinita Farmer, in a written statement provided through her attorney, Andre Lagomarsino. “Welcome to Vegas, where police can kill a defenseless human being, brag about it, and then get away scot free. I hope the public is as outraged as our family is at the killing of our son, father and brother. For no reason! No reason at all!”
An examination by the Clark County Coroner’s Office, which had deemed Brown’s death a homicide, also determined that Brown had methamphetamine in his system, and an enlarged heart.
Steve Grammas, president of the police protective association, said Brown did not die from being choked. He said Lopera’s defense presented medical experts to the grand jury who had determined Brown died of cardiac arrest, and that an expert brought on by prosecutors agreed.
“It’s been our stance this entire time that Officer Ken Lopera did not kill the suspect involved in the case... that he died from having narcotics in his system and a large heart,” Grammas said. “(Lopera) did not have intent to kill the suspect that night.”
Upon hearing the news Lopera felt “relieved, happy and appreciative with the grand jury,” Grammas said.
Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, in a statement described the grand jury’s decision as a “travesty of justice.”
“It is inexplicable that a jury would watch a video of Lopera choking Mr. Brown to death and not hold him accountable,” Story said.
The incident that led to Brown’s death unfolded inside the Strip property when Brown approached Lopera and another officer, who were having coffee. Brown was sweating profusely and appeared paranoid, so Lopera asked him why he was sweating, according to police.
Before suddenly running off through a roped off employee area, Brown told Lopera that he’d ran across the street because he was being chased, and asked the officers to escort him to the valet area. They had agreed.
Lopera encountered Brown outside near a pickup truck and warned him he was going to get shocked, employing the stun gun about 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. Brown would not had faced any charges if he’d survived, police said.
On video, Brown could be heard telling Lopera, “I will,” “OK sir,” and “I’m trying to,” police said. He twice tried putting on a shoe that had gone lose and tried reaching for his back where the taser prongs were attached.
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.”
“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),” Metro wrote on his arrest report. “However, Officer Lopera used his ECD, empty hand strikes, and a choke hold all of which were outside department policy and his training.”
Lopera was arrested on June 5, 2017, the day the coroner’s office deemed Brown’s death a homicide. Before posting bail, Lopera was briefly jailed at the Clark County Detention Center on counts of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office, both felonies. He’s been out since on a $6,000 bond.
“(Brown’s) family was not involved in this incident,” Grammas said. “His family wasn’t out there that night, and I feel bad that they have to go through it. To have a child or father or anybody like that, to lose them, nobody will understand what position that anybody will have when that happens. You always feel for your loved one.”
“I wish they’d never gone through that as Ken Lopera doesn’t wish they ever went through it,” he said.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify how former Metro officer Kenneth Lopera restrained the suspect. | (July 27, 2018)