Hawaii family sues Las Vegas police after fatal officer chokehold

Hawaii family looks for answers, closure after man killed by officer's chokehold
Published: Aug. 14, 2017 at 6:23 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 15, 2017 at 12:00 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAILUKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - It started as a police foot chase through a Las Vegas casino and ended in a fatal chokehold of a Hawaii man.

On May 14, Officer Kenneth Lopera with the Las Vegas Police Department chased 40-year-old Tashii Brown through the Venetian Hotel before allegedly striking him repeatedly and putting him in a deadly chokehold. 

The incident was captured on the officer's body camera and the hotel's security footage.

Now, Brown's family is suing LVMPD, saying he shouldn't have died that night.

"This death was absolutely avoidable," said Sheri Tanaka, an attorney on the legal team representing the family. "Unfortunately, Officer Lopera used a chokehold that is taught and authorized by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department."

Brown's family lives on Maui, and filed a lawsuit against the department on July 18.

"He was a good man," said Kawai Kuanoni, the mother of their two children. "He made an effort to do everything he could to make sure they had a dad that loved them."

Kuanoni and the children, Tamara, 9, and Elias, 7, are still grieving. One of the things they're doing to mourn: They're writing poems they believe their father can hear.

"I wish I could tell the man who did this to you how my heart aches and how mad I am, too," said Tamara, reading aloud her poem to her father.

That man, Lopera, was later charged with involuntary manslaughter and a second charge of oppression under color of office. The 31-year-old officer faces up to eight years in prison. 

The coroner's office said that on the night of the incident, Brown had methamphetamine in his system and had an enlarged heart.

"When we went to his funeral, we didn't recognize him at all. They didn't even know that was their dad. He didn't look himself at all because of the damage they did to his face," Kawai said.

Sandy Morton, Kawai's mother and grandmother to Elias and Tamara, believes the legal process will help the family heal.

"What I want to come out of this is justice for Tashii," Morton said. "And I want the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to take full responsibility for what they did."

The family says Brown moved to Las Vegas to take care of his mother and was looking forward to having Tamara and Elias over for Christmas.

Lopera's arraignment on manslaughter charges is set for Aug. 21 in Las Vegas. He's expected to plead not guilty.

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