Officer shocked Las Vegas man 7 times before using choke hold

Updated May 20, 2017 - 4:53 pm

A Las Vegas police officer stunned Tashii Brown seven times with a Taser and held him in an unauthorized neck hold for more than a minute early Sunday before his death.

Metropolitan Police Department Undersheriff Kevin McMahill released additional details Wednesday about the in-custody death. He identified the officer involved in the incident as Kenneth Lopera, a five-year veteran working in the tourist safety division, and said he has been placed on paid leave while Brown’s death is investigated.

Brown, 40, of Las Vegas, was pronounced dead about 1:40 a.m. Sunday at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center after a struggle with police about 40 minutes earlier. The Clark County coroner’s office has not yet announced a cause of death.

According to police, Brown, who also 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. He was described as “acting erratic” and paranoid and said the man told the officers “people were chasing him.”

He then left the hotel and tried opening the tailgate and then driver’s side door of a truck parked near the rear of the property, at which point Lopera used a Taser on him. The Police Department has said he continued to fight with officers.

Dramatic body cam footage

The agency played edited footage from Lopera’s body camera and surveillance footage from the resort that showed the struggle. The footage shows Lopera repeatedly stunning the man as he laid on the ground and yelling at him to roll over onto his stomach and put his hands behind his back.

In the video, Brown is seen with his hands raised, rolling onto his side, shouting, “I will. I will.”

Lopera then struck Brown multiple times with a closed fist and administered a choke hold while two other officers jumped into the fray.

“Is he out? Is he out yet?” one officer is heard saying on the video.

Brown became unresponsive and CPR was performed before he was taken to the hospital.

Lopera says on the video that he thought Brown was attempting a carjacking. The driver of the truck later told detectives he did not feel like he was being carjacked. And McMahill said Brown would not have faced any criminal charges had he survived.

Police tactics

The agency initially said the hold was an approved control technique called the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint, but at Wednesday’s briefing, McMahill said the officer described the technique he used as a “rear naked choke,” a martial arts technique similar to the authorized neck restraint.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo drew a distinction after the briefing, saying the department trains officers how to get out of a rear naked choke but not administer one.

“It has a different arm position,” he said.

Carolyn Becic, who was visiting Las Vegas from Portland, Oregon, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal she witnessed the incident and said the use of the Taser appeared excessive.

“As an observer, I don’t know why they would keep Tasing him,” she said. “He was already on the ground.”

Becic said the man remained on the ground for several minutes, apparently unconscious, before police began chest compressions in an effort to revive him.

The Police Department has experienced at least four other deaths related to its use of the approved neck restraint. Since Metro officers were equipped with Tasers in 2004, at least six deaths have been at least partly attributed to use of the 50,000-volt stun guns, leading to changes in policy.

On Aug. 2, 2004, Keith Tucker died after Las Vegas police officers stunned the combative man four times with a Taser. The department settled a lawsuit filed over Tucker’s death for $295,000, and the case led the department to forbid stunning suspects who were handcuffed.

On Dec. 11, 2010, Anthony Jones, 44, an unarmed man running from a traffic stop was stunned 11 times with a Taser. The coroner reported Jones’ cause of death was cocaine and ethanol intoxication, with police restraining procedures – including the use of a Taser — and an enlarged heart as contributing factors.

Policy: Three shocks max

After Jones’ death, the department again changed its policy to require officers to stop using Tasers if a suspect is not incapacitated after three shocks, except in unusual circumstances. The policy, which is currently in force, also limits Taser discharges to a five-second maximum.

Metro officers are also supposed to be trained in crisis intervention techniques meant to de-escalate tense situations. McMahill would not discuss how Lopera’s actions lined up with the training, adding the officer had not provided a statement to the detectives investigating Brown’s death.

During the briefing, McMahill asked for the community’s patience while the agency conducts its investigation. Lombardo echoed the sentiment, saying the case was weighing heavily on everyone’s minds.

“That’s all I’m asking for, is the public to give us time,” the sheriff said. “It’s too early in the process. We do not even know the cause of death right now.”

A family crushed

Reached at home after Wednesday’s briefing, Brown’s uncle, Derrick Lathan, said the family was crushed by Brown’s death. He said the police were focusing on the wrong things, referring to McMahill’s comments about Brown looking sweaty and agitated and about his criminal history in Hawaii, including a 2010 conviction for assaulting his girlfriend and an attempted murder charge that was later dropped.

“They train these officers in the wrong things to look for,” he said. “I thought he was terrorizing the Strip the way they made it sound.”

Brown moved to Las Vegas in January after his release from a prison in Hawaii, where the man was born and raised. Brown worked at a temp agency and volunteered at a boxing studio in the north valley.

He also said that his nephew had recently been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, adding that family members did not know he was mentally ill until then.

“When he’s normal on his medicine, he could run for mayor,” said Lathan, adding that a February charge of driving under the influence that Brown pleaded guilty to was likely the result of not taking his medication.

He described Brown as a gentle giant.

“He loved to make jokes,” Lathan said. “He was a hell of a skateboarder.”

”He had a creative mind on what he wanted to do. He was going to make something of himself.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the neck hold used by the officer was authorized by the Metropolitan Police Department.

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

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