Reporting and Photos: Nissa Tzun
Las Vegas, NV - On the morning after the Las Vegas Metropolitan's Use of Force panel hosted at the Mob Museum, a public relations attempt to boost the department's reputation, the decision to not follow through with the indictment of Kenneth Lopera, who killed unarmed Tashii Brown at The Venetian Hotel & Casino on Mother's Day of 2017, was made by the grand jury. The decision came as a surprise as the court date to follow up was scheduled for next week.
The decision came as a shock to many community members, including Tashii Brown's lawyer, Andre Lagomarsino, who months ago stated in an interview that he believed they had a very strong case. The impact is felt no greater than by Brown's mother, Trinita Farmer, who since the incident has suffered job and income loss, and is now dealing with a slew of health issues more than likely induced by the trauma from losing her only son. Families impacted by police violence are more often than not ineligible for Victims of Crime compensation, a federal program that offers 10K-10,000K to victims of violent crime. Due to the fact that 99% of excessive-use-of-force cases never result in a criminal indictment, the state assumes these cases as justifiable homicides which disqualifies impacted families from the program.
Trinita Farmer attends the first Mother's Day vigil for her son, Tashii Brown, by the Bellagio Fountains. She was so distraught that she had her friend Margie Day speak for her. May 13, 2018.
The initial indictment of Kenneth Lopera was perceived as somewhat of a victory for civil and human rights leaders in the Las Vegas Valley. Of the 165+ police homicides committed by LVMPD the last 30 years, Lopera would be the first police officer to be charged for taking the life of a civilian. However, the decision was made to refer the case to a grand jury, a disturbingly secretive procedure that even the family's lawyer is not permitted to attend. Nationally, the grand jury proceeding in police homicide cases has been a major barrier for communities seeking justice. The proceeding itself lacks oversight and leaves the decision of whether or not to prosecute in the hands of only those who participate in it, which includes the district attorney, and the jury itself. No judge is present during a grand jury proceeding and supposedly the defendant has no right to present their case. However, according to the Review Journal, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and his prosecutors sent the case to be studied by Force Science Institute, a group of expert witnesses who teach use-of-force classes to police academies and like agencies. It was the testimonies from Force Science that convinced the grand jury not to indict Lopera. Their findings were that Brown's heart condition and influence under methamphetamine caused his death, despite the Clark County coroner's office ruling that Brown expired due to asphyxiation. Force Science experts almost always side with police, and in fact when asked was not able to recall even one case where they have not sided with police. Approximately 46 police homicides committed by LVMPD have occurred under Wolfson's watch as district attorney.
In the case of Kenny Lazo, a young man who was beaten to death by five Suffolk County police officers in Bay Shore, New York, on April 12, 2008, the grand jury dismissed the criminal charges almost immediately, before the autopsy report was even released to the family. 7 years later the grand jury report was finally made available only by circumstance to the Lazo family lawyer, Fred Brewington, and it was revealed that the autopsy report was not even submitted for evidence.
Trinita Farmer, mother of Tashii Brown, poses with a framed collage of photos of her son and one of his many creative business logos. March 4, Las Vegas, NV.
Lagomarsino says he will continue to pursue justice for Brown and his family in the civil trial. He also shared a written statement from Farmer:
Metro Officer Lopera killed my son, Tashii. Tashii was defenseless on his back before Lopera used a taser seven times on him. When that wasn't enough, Lopera started beating Tashii with a fist on his head. Not satisfied with the beating, Lopera choked Tashii to death and bragged to an officer that he "choked him out." After killing my son in public, the grand jury secretly exonerated Lopera. Welcome to Vegas, where police can kill a defenseless human being, brag about it, and then get away scot free. I hope the public is as outraged as our family is at the killing of our son, father and brother. For no reason! No reason at all! Tashii was a good man. He did not deserve this.
Brown leaves behind two young children who live in Hawaii, his mother and sister, and many others who loved him.