Pro-police group’s role questioned in prosecution of Las Vegas officer

Updated July 22, 2018 - 11:00 pm

Through the repeated bursts of a Taser, an unarmed Tashii Brown told a Las Vegas police officer that he would comply with his orders outside a Strip resort.

The stun gun crackled seven times, the Metropolitan Police Department said. Then came the punches to Brown’s head, and the chokehold that lasted for more than a minute.

The officer, Kenneth Lopera, retired after the encounter. Brown lost his life.

Clark County prosecutors filed charges against Lopera last year, but now the case is in the hands of a grand jury that has been asked to consider a report from Force Science Institute, a Minnesota-based research group that cannot point to a specific time it did not side with police.

“If Force Science is the only one presenting, that is a loaded deck,” said University of South Carolina professor Geoff Alpert, who has studied police use of force for more than 25 years.

The institute says it is committed to studying how people react and make decisions in rapidly unfolding situations, but the group’s research has been criticized by experts and civil rights advocates.

“There’s not a lot of science to it,” Alpert said.

Lance LoRusso, a Georgia-based attorney and former police officer who works with Force Science, said the group does peer-reviewed research and is unbiased.

“They’re more biased in getting the truth,” he said.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said he is prevented by law from discussing what is presented to a grand jury. He would not answer questions about the case.

“I don’t believe any police officer wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to go out and kill somebody today,’” Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board in May. “That officer reacted in the best way he could, but in my opinion he crossed the line and committed crimes.”

It is still not clear whether the district attorney’s office is aware of Force Science’s reputation and record, said Gary Peck, a longtime Nevada civil rights advocate who has been a vocal critic of police.

“But it would be surprising if they were unaware of what Force Science does, how it does it, and the views of all sorts of professionals with respect to all of that,” Peck said.

Cause of death

Brown, a 40-year-old Las Vegas resident, died May 14, 2017, by asphyxia due to police restraint, the Clark County coroner’s office said. Methamphetamine use and an enlarged heart contributed to his death, which the coroner’s office ruled a homicide.

Steve Grammas, president of the union that represents Metro’s rank-and-file officers, said prosecutors sent the case to Force Science after Lopera’s attorneys brought in doctors who challenged the official cause of death. A representative from Force Science also testified on Lopera’s behalf, Grammas said. The union is representing Lopera in his criminal case.

Grammas said the defense has argued that Brown’s enlarged heart and drug use, coupled with the totality of the event, caused his death.

Lopera told police he thought Brown was trying to steal a truck before he used his Taser. Metro later said Brown was trying to pull the Taser probes from his back. Brown would not have faced any criminal charges had he survived, Metro has said.

The case and others influenced Metro’s use-of-force policy last year. A department-approved neckhold was reclassified from a low-level use of force to an intermediate or deadly one. Police said Lopera used an unapproved chokehold in the encounter.

Prosecutors charged Lopera with involuntary manslaughter and oppression under color of office about a month after the encounter. A grand jury picked up the case in March, Grammas said.

Randi McGinn, a New Mexico-based attorney who was appointed as special prosecutor in a deadly police shooting in 2014, said use-of-force deaths leave district attorneys, who rely heavily on police to build cases, in an uncomfortable position.

McGinn successfully argued to have most of Force Science founder Bill Lewinski’s testimony excluded from the case, which ended with a hung jury.

“DAs, politically, don’t want to prosecute police officers,” she said.

But taking those cases to a grand jury can be problematic for the public because everything is conducted in secret, she said.

Lewinski and his institute, however, give an out to attorneys in politically inconvenient positions, according to McGinn.

“You send it to him because you know in advance what the outcome is,” she said. “He’s going to say that it’s justified.”

Repeated attempts to reach Lewinski for comment were unsuccessful.

Pro-police reputation

The institute has taken on hundreds of cases for review over the years, but LoRusso said he is unaware of any cases in which Force Science has testified against an officer.

Jeff Noble, an expert witness with nearly 30 years of policing experience in California, said Force Science may be dissuaded from testifying against officers because it sells classes to police.

Metro sends its use-of-force investigators to Force Science classes, police spokesman Jay Rivera said. LoRusso said the group’s classes draw between 4,000 and 5,000 students annually. A five-day course is scheduled for November in Henderson, and tuition is $1,500 per student.

“There may be something to what he’s selling,” Noble said. “I’m willing to grant that. I just think the science should be more rigorous.”

LoRusso bristled at those who criticize Force Science for not testifying against police, calling the critique “amateurish.” He said a lawyer looking to take a case against police would not bring Force Science on as a witness if the group did not provide an opinion that was helpful to the case.

But Peck said Force Science’s record of siding with police speaks for itself.

“It is the record that explains why Force Science’s reputation is established and precedes it,” he said.

Contact Blake Apgar at or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

Former FBI agent recalls tragic case 20 years later
Timothy Blackburn robbed a Bank of America depository in December 1998 for more than $1 million — the largest bank robbery in Nevada’s history. After eluding authorities initially, Blackburn was caught and jailed at the North Las Vegas Detention Center. In August 1999, he escaped, guns blazing, with his wife’s help, and disappeared for weeks only to be found at an apartment near Boulder Highway. Former FBI Agent Henry Schlumpf, the lead on the case, remembers vividly the hostage situation that would end tragically. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer Shoots Suspect in Nye County - Bodycam
A Nye County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man Thursday night. Jason Paul O’Bannon, 46, died after the altercation with police. Reports of a man firing a weapon outside his house brought police to the scene just after 8 p.m. Detective Wesley Fancher fired the shot that killed O’Bannon, police said. O’Bannon had a “lengthy criminal history” in California and Nevada dating to 1988, according to police
Nye County sheriff news conference on officer-involved shooting
Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly details the police response as officers came under fire Thursday when a man was shooting a rifle in his yard. When the man pointed a weapon at an officer, police opened fire. The man died.
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing - 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
The Mob Museum
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Man shot, killed by Las Vegas police after traffic stop
Las Vegas police give a briefing after a man was shot and killed by an officer following a traffic stop. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video of suspect in Home Depot parking lot shooting
A man who was injured in a Nov. 20 shooting in the southwest Las Vegas Valley died at a hospital Tuesday, the Clark County coroner’s office said.
Nevada Task Force 1 Dog Units Return
Four dogs and their handlers returned to the Las Vegas Valley on Thursday, November 29, 2018, after deploying to the Paradise, California wildfire last week. The dogs, trained in human remains detection, are part of Nevada Task Force 1, a Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search and rescue team. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police thwart brazen kidnapping attempt
Metro officers suspicious of woman claiming to be with Child Protective Services prevent possible kidnapping of three-week-old infant.
Shot Spotter technology used by Metro extended for another year
Gunfire location technology being used by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department gets extended for another year of evaluation.
Nye County pursuit ends in rollover crash caught by dashcam
A truck flipped twice before landing on its wheels as a driver tried to flee Nye County Sheriff's deputies on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.
Nevada Highway Patrol stops wrong-way driver on Thanksgiving
The Nevada Highway Patrol has released dashboard and body camera video showing troopers deploying spike strips to stop a suspected impaired wrong-way driver early Thanksgiving Day. (Nevada Highway Patrol)
DUI sentencing
The parents of 8-year-old Levi Echenique speak after a woman who drove under the influence of marijuana and killed the boy was sent to prison.
3 Pahrump residents arrested on false imprisonment charges
James Thatcher, 28 of Pahrump, Chelsea Demille, 30 of Pahrump, and Sandra Wombles, 19 of Pahrump were all arrested after it was discovered that they were holding an adult female and male prisoners in their bedroom. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
2 kids struck by gunfire in North Las Vegas shooting
On Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, people opened fire into a residence in the 3600 block of Hamlin Place in North Las Vegas. Two kids were hit by gunfire and sent to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to North Las Vegas police. Anyone with information is asked to call the NLVPD at 702-633-9111.
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
16-year-old shot in North Las Vegas
A 16-year-old was hospitalized but was expected to survive after a shooting in North Las Vegas, near Centennial Parkway and Fifth Street, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. North Las Vegas police spokesman Aaron Patty gives an update. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
3-year-old boy shot in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas Police Officer Aaron Patty talks about an accidental shooting that left a 3-year-old boy “fighting for his life” on Nov. 10, 2018.
Senior Citizen Carjacking Attack -- 3 Suspects Sought
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detectives are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the three attackers who carjacked and beat a 78-year-old man near Fremont and east Charleston on Tuesday. (LVMPD)
Henderson Police Department Chief Latesha Watson Talks Change
11-year-old girl shot, killed in North Las Vegas
An 11-year-old girl is dead after she was struck by gunfire Thursday night during a shooting in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas police on deadly shooting
North Las Vegas police spokesman Eric Leavitt briefs the media about a shooting that left an 11-year-old girl dead on Nov. 1, 2018. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stephan Bonnar DUI Arrest
Stephan Bonnar arrested for DUI in Nevada.
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss. Susan Nash, 52, was killed in a shooting along with her daughter and one of her three sons on Sunday night. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Sayegh Cold Case Turns 40
Cary Sayegh was abducted from the playground of the Albert Einstein Hebrew Day School in Las Vegas in 1978. His body has never been found. (File Photo)
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like