(Reuters) - A white police officer in Las Vegas was arrested on Monday and charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a black man held in a chokehold for more than a minute, officials said.
Officer Kenneth Lopera was charged on the same day the Clark County Coroner’s Office ruled the May 14 death of Tashii Farmer, 40, near the Las Vegas Strip was a homicide due to police restraint.
The coroner also found Farmer’s enlarged heart and methamphetamine intoxication were contributing factors.
The two charges of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under color of office brought against Lopera, which could each carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison if he is convicted, follow a number of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of the police in the United States that have spawned protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The charges are the result of the coroner’s findings along with evidence gathered from video surveillance, (police) body-worn cameras and witness statements,” Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who overseas the police department that employs Lopera, said at a news conference.
Farmer, who also went by the last name Brown, approached the officer on May 14 inside the Venetian Hotel, saying he believed people were chasing him, police have said. Farmer, who was sweating and looked panicked, then ran into a restricted area.
Lopera ran after Farmer, catching up to him outside the hotel where he tried to arrest Farmer, police have said.
With hotel security guards helping him, the officer used a Taser in an unsuccessful attempt to stun Farmer into submission and later held him in a chokehold, according to police.
After Lopera released Farmer from the chokehold, Farmer was no longer breathing. Paramedics rushed him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Lopera, who has been placed on unpaid leave, was arrested and booked into jail on Monday. The Las Vegas Police Protective Association paid $6,000 to have him released on bail, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, citing the police union’s president, Steve Grammas.
“We will be representing the officer to the fullest extent that we can,” Grammas told the newspaper.
Grammas could not be reached for comment late on Monday.
Lopera tried to arrest Farmer because the officer believed Farmer was trying to hijack a truck, but investigators later concluded Farmer would not have been charged with a crime for his actions had he lived, police have said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Macfie