Las Vegas police officer will be charged in chokehold death of an unarmed black man

A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer will be criminally charged in the death of an unarmed black man last month outside the Venetian casino, authorities said Monday.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Kenneth Lopera was expected to be charged with involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office — each count carrying a maximum sentence of four years in state prison.

The charges stem from an early-morning incident on May 14 when 40-year-old Tashii Brown approached Lopera and an unidentified officer at a coffee shop at the Venetian. Brown was described as acting erratically and told officers he was being chased. But then he took off and Lopera ran after him — activating his body camera in the process.

What his video captured — as did other surveillance footage — was Lopera, who has said he thought Brown was trying to hijack a vehicle, firing his Taser seven times. He then punched Brown and administered a chokehold once he was lying on his stomach. When Brown was subsequently unresponsive, CPR was administered and he was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

On Monday, the Clark County coroner and medical examiner ruled Brown’s death a homicide.

The coroner’s office said the autopsy results found the cause of death to be “asphyxia due to police restraint procedures.” It said “other significant conditions” included methamphetamine intoxication and an enlarged heart.

“The charges are the result of the coroner’s findings, along with evidence gathered from video surveillance, body-worn cameras and witness statements,” Lombardo said Monday. “It should be noted that officer Lopera did not provide a statement to the force investigation team, which is responsible for the criminal investigation of this incident.”

Andre Lagomarsino, a lawyer representing the Brown family, said family members believed first-degree murder charges were called for and weren’t satisfied with the two lesser charges announced Monday. He said they also wanted to see charges filed against the security guards who aided Lopera in the arrest.

“Tashii got a death sentence,” Lagomarsino said.

The case sparked protests on May 28, leading to a short blockage of the Las Vegas Strip and about a dozen arrests. It also renewed calls by the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP to ban the use of chokeholds by Las Vegas police.

Authorities have said Lopera used a mixed martial arts chokehold that differs from the chokehold technique approved for use by the department.

Lagomarsino said the family was still grieving over Brown’s death and his mother was receiving his ashes Monday after a memorial service on Saturday.

He said the family planned to file a civil lawsuit against the department, but would probably wait until after the criminal trial and internal investigations were completed.

Lopera, 31, joined the force in 2012, entering as a corrections officer.

He was booked at Clark County Jail on Monday and bailed out by the Las Vegas Police Protective Assn. about an hour later on $6,000 bail.

Steve Grammas, president of the association, said Lopera had been prepared for the “worst-case scenario.”

“We don't believe he should've been charged at all,” Grammas said. “But we will be standing by him.”

The sheriff said a full report on the incident would take about two months to complete.

david.montero@latimes.com

Twitter: @davemontero


UPDATES:

6:40 p.m.: The story was updated with details of Lopera’s employment and booking and a statement from the Las Vegas Police Protective Assn.

The story was originally published at 6:05 p.m.

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