Tags: police | neck restraint | new mexico | manslaughter | choke hold

New Mexico Officer Charged After Man Put in Neck Restraint Dies

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By    |   Saturday, 06 June 2020 04:11 PM

A Las Cruces, New Mexico, police officer is facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man he placed in a neck restraint.

District Attorney Mark D'Antonio announced Friday his office was filing the charge against Officer Christopher Smelser for the Feb. 29 death of Antonio Valenzuela, 40, who had a parole violation warrant against him when he ran from officers following a traffic stop. 

Authorities have said police gave chase after Valenzuela fled on foot. They twice used their Tasers, but say Valenzuela continued struggling to get away. At one point, Smelser restrained Valenzuela by the neck to gain control. He became unresponsive and paramedics were unable to revive him.

After reviewing the autopsy report, Police Chief Patrick Gallagher said Friday it was in the best interest of the department and the community to relieve Smelser of his duties and issued a letter of intent to terminate the officer's employment. 

A four-year veteran with the department, Smelser has been on administrative leave since Feb. 29 pending the outcome of the autopsy report.

"Words are insufficient to bring comfort to Antonio Valenzuela's family, but I extend my sincere condolences for their loss," the chief said in a statement. "It is a tragic day for everyone involved when there is an in-custody death or a death as a result of a police apprehension."

The department began prohibiting the use of neck restraints during apprehensions after the death.

The autopsy states methamphetamine played a role in his death, explaining the presence of the drug can cause a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and an increased demand of oxygen. The meth likely placed increased stress on Valenzuela's cardiovascular system, according to the report.

The report comes as advocates for police reform call for authorities to end the use of chokeholds in the wake of George Floyd's death after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck. 

Congressional Democrats, powered by the Congressional Black Caucus, are now preparing a sweeping package of police reforms.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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A Las Cruces, New Mexico, police officer is facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man he placed in a neck restraint.
police, neck restraint, new mexico, manslaughter, choke hold
Saturday, 06 June 2020 04:11 PM
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