Las Vegas Metropolitan police officer Kenneth Lopera was charged Monday with involuntary manslaughter in the Mother's Day killing of Tashii Farmer, 40, at The Venetian casino hotel. He also was charged with oppression under the color of office.
The charges stem from an early morning incident on May 14. Farmer approached Lopera and his partner inside the hotel around 12:50 a.m., to complain of people chasing him, police said. Farmer then ran into a restricted area of the property, and Lopera followed.
An altercation escalated, and Lopera punched Farmer with a closed fist multiple times, used a stun gun on him several times more than rules allow, and used an unauthorized "rear naked choke" to stop what the officer believed to be a carjacking in progress, police said.
The case calls to mind the 2014 death of Eric Garner, an unarmed father who gasped, "I can't breathe!" before he succumbed to a chokehold by a New York City officer. A grand jury declined to indict that officer.
It also comes as the Justice Department has found excessive use of force
by police in cities across the country, a trend the "Black Lives Matter" activists
and others have pushed to reverse.
'Rear naked choke' used
The "rear naked choke" that Lopera used on Farmer is not approved by the Las Vegas department. Lopera applied the unapproved technique on Farmer for more than a minute, according to a police department statement.
The chokehold is commonly used in mixed martial arts. It's applied from behind by wrapping an arm around an opponent's head while using the other arm to lock the hold in place. In a successful hold, the aggressor's elbows are brought toward each other to apply lateral pressure to both sides of the neck, cutting off oxygen.
Farmer was also exposed to a stun gun seven times -- more than department protocol allows, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said at a May news conference.
"The policy ... states that once the suspect has been exposed to three cycles of the Taser or the electronic control device, it shall be deemed ineffective unless exigent circumstances exist," McMahill said. "Officers are taught to transition to another tool."
After Farmer was handcuffed, it was determined he wasn't breathing, and medical personnel were called, police said. Officers tried to resuscitate him until paramedics arrived. Farmer was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 1:39 a.m.
Homicide related to police restraint
Charges were filed against Lopera after the Clark County Coroner's Office ruled Farmer's death was a homicide due to asphyxiation related to police restraint. Contributing factors included an enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication, the coroner ruled.
Farmer, the father of two young children who lived with his mother, had been taking medication for depression at the time of his death, family attorney Andre Lagomarsino said. It's not clear what the medication was and whether it impacted Farmer's behavior, which officers described as "erratic."
The Las Vegas Police Protective Association paid Lopera's $6,000 bail, and he was released from the Clark County Detention Center, union president Steve Grammas said.
Lopera, who had been on paid leave since the incident, was placed on unpaid administrative leave after charges were filed, police said. He also faces an internal administrative investigation, his department said.
Farmer's mother, Trinita Farmer, had been wondering where her son was when coroner's employees arrived at her house on Mother's Day and told her that he had been killed, Lagomarsino said several days after Farmer's death.