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Family of man killed in Las Vegas police custody consider lawsuit

Updated May 20, 2017 - 4:37 pm

The family of a man killed Sunday while in Las Vegas police custody said Friday that the family is considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the department.

Also Friday, the Southern Nevada chapter of the NAACP joined a call for the Las Vegas police to forbid the use of neck restraints that can render suspects unconscious.

Henderson attorney Andre Lagomarsino is representing the estate of Tashii Brown — who died after Lepora stunned the man seven times with a Taser, punched him several times and put him in an unapproved chokehold for more than a minute.

He said it was unclear whether racial bias played a role in the officer’s actions.

“It is a question right now,” he said. “You can’t ignore that it was a white officer with a black male.”

Police body-camera video made public this week appears to show officer Kenneth Lopera using excessive force to subdue an unarmed man who died after the struggle in a parking-area driveway behind a Strip casino, NAACP leader Roxann McCoy said.

“It looks like he’s trying to comply, but excessive force is used,” McCoy said of Brown, who is seen on video stiffening when he’s shocked with the stun gun and falling backward to the pavement with his arms raised.

Family ‘devastated’

Brown’s family will be recommending the officer be fired, Lagomarsino said. While he and the family are focused on laying him to rest and gathering the facts surrounding his death, they are exploring filing a lawsuit, the attorney said.

“He had two children, a sister and a mom. They’re very close,” the lawyer said. “They’re devastated.”

He called the incident representative of “police misconduct that has been going on for decades.”

According to police, Brown, who at times used his mother’s surname of Farmer, approached two uniformed officers about 1 a.m. inside The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South. The 40-year-old man was described as “acting erratic” and paranoid and said the man told the officers “people were chasing him.”

The Las Vegas man was pronounced dead about 1:40 a.m. Sunday at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center. The Clark County coroner’s office had not determined a cause of death as of Friday afternoon.

Lopera, a five-year veteran working in the tourist safety division, has been placed on paid leave while Brown’s death is investigated.

ACLU weighs in

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is also looking into the incident. Executive Director Tod Story said the nonprofit will file an extensive public records request on the Police Department’s use of chokeholds — even after the Police Department said Wednesday the hold Lopera used was not authorized under Metro policy.

“Even the approved techniques, we think have got to be eliminated,” he said.

Story said de-escalation tactics were the predominant theme of the reforms the Justice Department recommended in 2012.

“Why was this officer escalating a situation where no crime had been committed, no individual was threatened and the individual, Mr. Farmer, wasn’t even carrying a weapon?” he said. “Did this officer not receive the training or did he just ignore the training?”

Longtime civil rights advocate Gary Peck echoed the concerns about de-escalation training. He worked with the ACLU when Metro officers adopted the use of Tasers in 2004, and has called for them to stop using the weapons as a compliance tool.

Footage from Lopera’s body camera shows Brown lying on the ground with his arms raised as the officer repeatedly shouts at the man — between stun gun discharges — to lie on his stomach.

“There was nothing aggressive about that. He was trying to pull the (Taser) prongs out of his back,” Peck said. “These are weapons that can kill people.”

Allen Lichtenstein, a civil rights lawyer who has sued Metro over its Taser policy, said the best outcome would be for facts about this case to be shared and deliberated transparently.

“I hope it doesn’t induce a circling-the-wagons-type response. That would be counterproductive,” he said.

The Metropolitan Police Department did not comment Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Follow @WesJuhl on Twitter.

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