A black man named Tashii Brown was unarmed when he died in the chokehold of Las Vegas police officer Kenneth Lopera a little more than a week ago.
According to police, Brown had approached Lopera and his partner inside The Venetian, on the Las Vegas Strip, claiming someone was chasing him. Then he ran off. Lopera ran after him.
Metro Police have said that after a brief chase, during which Lopera said Brown tried to open the tailgate of a pickup truck, Lopera shocked Brown seven times with a Taser. On the ground, Lopera hit Brown in the head. By this time, hotel security was standing there and other police were arriving.
Then, police also said, Lopera put Brown in a "rear naked choke hold" for more than a minute.
Brown died and an official cause of death is pending.
Undersheriff Kevin McMahill told KNPR’s State of Nevada he can’t speak to why Lopera reacted the way he did.
“I don’t know why,” McMahill said, “I can’t tell you what the perspective of the officer was when that incident occurred because that officer chose not to give a statement to the criminal investigators.”
Both a criminal investigation and an administrative investigation are going on into the incident.
McMahill said officers are trained to only use the Taser three times because after that it is deemed ineffective. They’re also supposed to use the Taser on a suspect and then try to put handcuffs on that person.
And while the chokehold used by Lopera was unauthorized it is like the one that is approved.
“The rear naked choke is very similar to the LVNR (lateral vascular neck restraint) which is what the department authorized technique that we teach,” McMahill said.
The neck restraint is supposed to be used to restrict blood flow to the brain, temporarily incapacitating someone, McMahill said. However, how effective or how dangerous it can be depends on several factors, including the pressure that is applied and where the arm is placed around a person’s neck.
McMahill is asking that people who have video of the incident turn it over to Metro so they can have a better idea of how the chokehold was used.
Former American Civil Liberties Union attorney Gary Peck called into to KNPR’s State of Nevada to talk about his concerns about the case. He said conversations about neck restraint use has been going on for years.
“It is kind of unsettling that we’re still engaging in this and trying to figure out that neck restraints are a bad idea generally,” Peck said.
The Southern Nevada chapter of the NAACP has asked Metro to forbid the use of that type of hold.
Despite the criticism about the chokehold and the use of a Taser, in this case, Metro Police has been praised by several groups and even in an article in the Los Angeles Times about how it has handled the incident.
Within days, McMahill held a news conference and released the video from the Lopera’s body camera, along with video from security cameras on the property.
“We committed a long time ago to be very transparent about this,” McMahill said, “I thought it was important for the community to see exactly what had occurred because that’s what we had promised them over the last number of years.”
In 2012, Metro requested a review by the Department of Justice designed to address questions of use of force and the review process following an officer-involved shooting.
The DOJ report spurred multiple changes in the department and McMahill credits it with a dramatic drop in the number of officer-involved shootings.
“We’ve been very open and transparent about the shortcomings that we’ve had and certainly that DOJ review that we underwent and we’ve been able to successfully reduce the number of involved shootings from 25 in 2010 down to 10 last year,” he said.
McMahill said there has been an absolute effort by the whole organization to address those shortcomings and to “authentically” engage with communities that may not have always seen police in “positive light.”
McMahill said a demonstration is planned to protest how Brown died. He said Metro fully supports people’s right to peacefully protest, even if it is against his department.
(Editor's Note: This video contains an unedited body camera video of the incident. Warning: It contains graphic content)
Undersheriff Kevin McMahill, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
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