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Reports from Las Vegas are crediting the Force Science Institute with providing critical information that helped to convince a grand jury there not to indict a former officer on criminal charges stemming from a highly controversial arrest-related death.
The case, which garnered national headlines and tv coverage, arose from a struggle outside a casino between an unarmed black man and Las Vegas Metro officer Kenneth Lopera. The officer, who no longer is with that department, was accused of killing the suspect with an “unapproved chokehold” and was charged with involuntary manslaughter and “oppression under color of office.”
Lopera’s union-funded defense team, bolstered with input from Force Science, argued that a neck restraint was not the cause of death. The 40-year-old suspect, who exhibited signs of excited delirium, suffered from a heart disorder and had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the fatal altercation.
Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas police officers’ union, was quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal as saying that FSI played a “fairly heavy” role in Lopera’s exoneration. “I think it shows that there’s credibility with that group and the studies that they do,” Grammas said.
“ACTING ODDLY.” The incident began in May last year when the suspect approached Lopera and his partner inside the Venetian casino. As the Review-Journal summarizes: He “acted oddly and then ran into an area that was off-limits to the public. Lopera pursued him, ending up outside.” The officer thought the suspect was “going to carjack a truck, so Lopera attempted to detain him.”
During a violent struggle in the few moments that followed, Lopera delivered shocks from a CEW seven times, punched the suspect more than 10 times in the head, and applied a neck restraint for some 70 seconds before the thrashing suspect was finally subdued with the help of security officers from the casino.
Angry protests and “outrage” from the suspect’s surviving relatives and activist groups erupted over the incident.
After autopsy, a coroner’s report concluded that the suspect’s death officially was a homicide caused by a chokehold (“asphyxia due to police restraint”), with an enlarged heart and meth intoxication as “significant contributing conditions.”
FORCE SCIENCE ROLE. Force Science made two significant contributions to the case:
1) A Force Science medical consultant who is an expert on sudden death in custody meticulously reviewed the coroner’s findings and concluded that there was, in fact, no medical evidence to support the official conclusion that the suspect had been choked to death by the officer’s neck restraint or that he died from asphyxia from any source.
2) A certified Advanced Force Science Specialist with extensive expertise about factors of human dynamics in use-of-force encounters and has trained with the Institute for years, was called to appear before the grand jury to testify.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, further details are not available at this time. More will likely emerge in the days ahead, as the suspect’s family has filed a federal lawsuit in the case and the local prosecutor who brought the criminal charges against Lopera has not said at this writing whether that office intends to pursue other counts against the former officer.
Meanwhile, in weighing the grand jury’s resolve last week not to indict, a columnist for the Review-Journal, concludes that it “makes sense.... There’s plenty of evidence it was the right decision.”
FSI’s executive director Dr. Bill Lewinski concurs. The Institute, he says, takes pride in its ability to provide authorities with a broad spectrum of expertise who can professionally analyze complex use-of-force cases and help the justice system distinguish scientific truths from emotion-driven controversy and misguidance.
Many of these experts are directly involved in the Force Science Institute’s extensive training programs including the Force Science Certification Course [click here for a training brochure], the Advanced Force Science Specialist program, the Force Science Basics class and specialized courses including Realistic De-escalation and a Body Worn Camera course.
Good post David ~ thx for sharing