A Louisville police officer accused of violence remains on the force
In recent years, LMPD officer Lonzo McConico has violated policy, been the subject of a lawsuit and gotten arrested. He still works for the city’s embattled police department.
Tanner Brown was drunk and handcuffed outside a bar in Old Louisville around 2 a.m. in February 2018.
Brown was 18 at the time and had used a fake ID to get into the bar. Once there, he’d downed several Vegas Bombs — two shots of alcohol mixed with the energy drink Red Bull — and had gotten unruly. Security personnel escorted him out.
On the sidewalk, Brown was handcuffed by Louisville Metro Police Officer Lonzo McConico, who was working off duty providing security at the bar. As Brown stood with his hands cuffed behind his back and seemingly not resisting, McConico suddenly swept the teen’s legs out from under him, according to video reviewed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Brown’s head careened into the pavement, knocking him unconscious, and requiring that he be hospitalized. The nearby crowd shrieked in shock and surprise.
The incident wasn’t the first time McConico allegedly injured someone — nor would it be the last.
Documents obtained by KyCIR show McConico has violated police policy and been accused twice of criminal violations.
His actions have come at a significant financial expense to the city and with an emotional toll on Brown.
Brown filed a lawsuit in November 2018 against McConico and Louisville Metro government. City officials settled the case two months ago — paying $189,500 to Brown and his attorneys.
McConico’s story is the latest in a string of problematic reports involving LMPD personnel. The Courier Journal recently detailed how several officers in a so-called elite policing unit threw drinks at people from unmarked vehicles in 2018 and 2019. In another case, WDRB News reported that a judge awarded millions of dollars in damages after an LMPD officer was accused of violating the department’s pursuit policy.
The department’s chief also recently gave untruthful testimony under oath about wearing a body camera at the scene of the crash that resulted from the police pursuit. And it all comes in the wake of a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice last March, which found that LMPD had a pattern of violating people’s civil rights.
Before McConico swept Brown to the sidewalk in 2018, the officer was allegedly responsible for taking another man to the ground and scraping his face while working off-duty security at an event on New Year’s Eve 2017.
McConico told police investigators he didn’t use force on the man. But another officer and the head of the security company working the event told a different story. Police officials exonerated McConico for the use of force, but suspended him for a day without pay for failing to obtain prior approval to work off-duty and for neglecting to report the man’s “pre-existing injuries.”
Then, in December 2022, McConico was arrested and jailed in McAllen, Texas, on a charge of misdemeanor assault after he allegedly hit a woman in the face. Three days later, Louisville police officials suspended McConico’s police powers and put him on “administrative light duty,” which prohibited him from performing police operations including making an arrest or conducting a traffic stop.
McConico’s police powers were restored last April 21, following dismissal of the Texas case. He had completed an anger management course and the complaining witness had requested the dismissal. The alleged victim of the assault could not be reached for comment.
McConico is currently assigned to the department’s second division, which includes the Shawnee, Chickasaw and Park DuValle neighborhoods and runs from downtown to far western Louisville and from the Ohio River on the north to I-264 on the south.
He did not respond to a half-dozen requests from KyCIR for comment.
Following his arrest by McConico, Brown was charged with fleeing or evading police, resisting arrest and public intoxication. The officer’s arrest citation stated that Brown “decided to resist” and that McConico “had to restrain him.”
But a motion to dismiss the case filed in April 2018 by Assistant County Attorney Emily Weatherholt told a very different story.
Weatherholt’s motion stated that McConico’s actions were “unnecessary and inappropriate.”
McConico also made “inaccurate statements” to other officers and emergency medical personnel that responded to the scene, according to Weatherholt’s motion.
“It is most appropriate not to pursue criminal charges, based on Officer McConico’s inappropriate behavior after the arrest, and the inaccurate statements,” the motion stated.
Brown, who is now 24 years old and working full time at a local Home Depot store, said in an interview with KyCIR that he suffers from memory loss and has no recollection of events that occurred during his high-school years, or on the night of his encounter with McConico, until he regained consciousness in the hospital.
“That's a part of my life that I don't really wish to reopen,” he said. “That was a traumatizing experience. And I want to keep it in the past. I'm happy that I'm here. I'm happy I have opportunity. And none of that will be taken for granted, because it can be taken away in an instant.”
An allegation of prosecutorial misconduct
After McConico was charged in December 2018 with assaulting Brown an expert witness raised concerns about possible prosecutorial misconduct in the case.
Dr. William Smock, a nationally known authority on forensic and emergency medicine who has served as LMPD’s police surgeon and has taught medical students and residents, examined Brown in the hospital on the day he was injured.
In a sworn statement he gave in May 2022 in connection with Brown’s lawsuit against McConico, Smock testified that the prosecutor in McConico’s criminal case had asked him to change his medical opinion that Brown had suffered injuries “of a serious physical nature.”
Smock said he told Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jessica Kingsley: “No, ma'am. My opinions stand, Mr. Brown sustained a serious bodily injury, and I would not change my report, nor change my opinion.”
Smock said that he did not know why Kingsley made the request but that he was “taken aback” by it.
“This was the first time in my career where a prosecutor had asked me to change my opinion. That has never happened before in my hundreds of times testifying on behalf of prosecutors around the country. I was shocked,” he said.
Smock also said in his deposition that he thought McConico’s actions constituted felony assault, and that he was “concerned that I was not asked to present my findings” to the grand jury that considered McConico’s criminal case and charged him with misdemeanor assault.
Smock said he has examined “hundreds” of victims with injuries similar to Brown’s, and that his testimony in some of those cases resulted in felony assault indictments and convictions.
Kingsley, who left the commonwealth’s attorney’s office several years ago, said in an interview with KyCIR that not having Smock testify before the grand jury “was a decision made within my prosecutorial discretion,” and that “evidence was presented to the grand jury regarding Dr. Smock’s report.”
Kingsley also denied that she attempted to pressure Smock to change his testimony about the severity of Brown’s injuries.
“I did not ask him to change his opinion,” Kingsley said. “It's his opinion. It's his medical opinion. And his opinion was presented to the grand jury, as were other medical opinions.”
Asked if she was suggesting that Smock testified falsely in his sworn deposition, Kingsley said, “I can't answer that question without looking at the deposition.”
KyCIR then provided a copy of the deposition to Kingsley. She acknowledged in March that she had received the copy. But she never responded to follow-up requests for comment about it.
Kingsley also said that her decision not to have Smock testify before the grand jury was based in part on her belief that Smock saw Brown in the hospital after he was treated by a neurologist.
But the only neurologist called before the grand jury, or who testified at McConico’s criminal trial, was Ahmad Alhourani, who is currently a neurosurgery resident at the University of Louisville.
Alhourani said in his trial testimony that did not see Brown until the following morning. According to Smock’s deposition, he saw Brown in the hospital on February 2, 2018, the day he was injured.
Alhourani declined an interview request from KyCIR.
Erwin Roberts, who was the first assistant Jefferson commonwealth’s attorney at the time McConico’s criminal case made its way through the court system, told KyCIR that “neither Ms. Jessica Kingsley nor any other member of our office engaged in any unethical or prosecutorial misconduct.”
Roberts, who is now employed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Louisville, said Alhourani simply had “a different opinion as to the seriousness of Tanner Brown’s injury. While Dr. Smock believed the injury suffered by Tanner Brown met the medical definition for ‘serious physical injury’, the injury did not meet the legal definition for ‘serious physical injury,’” Roberts said.
Roberts also said the grand jury was given the option of charging McConico with either felony or misdemeanor assault, and chose the lesser alternative.
In May 2019, following a two-day trial, McConico was acquitted of the misdemeanor charge.
In December 2020, following a review by the department’s Professional Standards Unit, LMPD Chief Yvette Gentry found that McConico had violated eight standard operating procedures in connection with the incident involving Brown.
Those violations included using “inappropriate force causing physical injury” to Brown, failing to “show appropriate care” to Brown after his head hit the sidewalk due to McConico’s leg sweep, and working off-duty inside the Old Louisville Tavern. Officers are prohibited from engaging in secondary employment as a bouncer or security guard in businesses that primarily sell liquor by the drink.
The leg sweep maneuver McConico used to take Brown to the ground is commonly used in martial arts. But former LMPD Officer Chris Davis, who was a witness for the prosecution at McConico’s trial and who had been an instructor at the department’s training academy, testified that the leg sweep was not a maneuver he taught and that it is not an effective technique.
Davis, who said he had provided training to McConico, also said that once a person is in handcuffs, “You are then responsible for that individual. As we refer to it, you own them.”