- Associated Press - Thursday, January 25, 2018

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A grand jury will consider the involuntary manslaughter case against a former Las Vegas police officer in the neck-hold death of an unarmed man outside a Strip casino last May, prosecutors told a judge Thursday.

The former officer, Kenneth Lopera, did not appear in court for a brief hearing, at which prosecutors told the judge they plan to seek an indictment in the May 2017 asphyxiation death of 40-year-old Tashii Brown.

Justice of the Peace Cynthia Cruz gave prosecutors until March 26 to take the case to the grand jury.

The panel could revise charges filed last June against Lopera, who became the first Las Vegas police officer in 27 years to be charged with involuntary manslaughter. He was dismissed from the department in September.

Lopera, 32, also is accused of felony oppression under color of office. He could face up to eight years in prison if he is convicted of both charges. He remains free on $6,000 bail.

Steve Grammas, head of the police union representing the former officer, said he expects the grand jury to find that Lopera didn’t cause Brown’s death and that Brown died of other health problems and the influence of methamphetamine.

“We had hoped a grand jury would hear this case,” Grammas said.

The development drew criticism from American Civil Liberties Union executive Tod Story, who accused prosecutors of “wavering under pressure from the police union.”

Gary Peck, a longtime Nevada civil rights advocate, called it “unfortunate that the wheels of justice grind so slowly when we are dealing with an issue of critical importance to the community.”

Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg ruled last June that Brown died of “asphyxia due to police restraint,” and called the death a homicide. He also listed as “significant contributing conditions” that Brown had an enlarged heart and was under the influence of methamphetamine.

Brown, who also used the name Tashii Farmer, approached Lopera and his patrol partner in a coffee shop at The Venetian, telling them he thought people were after him, police have said. He then ran through employees-only hallways and out a rear entrance.

Lopera chased Brown, and video from the officer’s body camera and casino security views show him using a stun gun on Brown seven times, punching him more than 10 times and putting him in what a police supervisors called an unapproved chokehold for a minute and 13 seconds.

Police said the number of shocks violated department policy and the neck hold differed from an approved method taught to officers to render combative people unconscious.

Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who leads Las Vegas police, announced in September that the agency was changing use-of-force policies to stop routine use of neck holds.

Many other police departments prohibit officers from using the technique unless they are in a life-or-death struggle.

Records show that from 2012 to 2016, Los Angeles officers reported using neck holds just seven times. Las Vegas police, by comparison, reported using the technique 274 times during the same five-year period.

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