Photo of Las Cruces Police officer charged with manslaughter released, court documents reveal more details

Crime

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The Las Cruces Police Department has released a photo of the now former-officer who is suspected of manslaughter after using a banned maneuver to apprehend a suspect.

Christopher Smelser, 27, allegedly killed Antonio Valenzuela on Feb. 29 while restraining him following a foot chase and struggle. According to the Las Cruces Police Department, Smelser used a vascular neck restraint, which has been prohibited by the department.

Valenzuela was pulled over for a traffic stop and had an open warrant for a parole violation. He allegedly fled on foot and officers used their tasers on him twice without any effect, a Dona Ana County District Attorney’s news release said.

“Valenzuela was continually struggling to get away, once on the ground, during this struggle, Officer Smelser applied a vascular neck restraint technique to gain control,” the district attorney release said. 

Meanwhile, video obtained by KTSM’s media partner KRQE, shows Smelser allegedly threatening to choke Valenzuela out.

“I’m going to f***ing choke you out, bro,” Smelser is heard saying.

“He’s out,” an officer said.

“He’s out?” another officer asked.

“Yeah, we’ve got him detained,” the first officer explained.

Once officers put Valenzuela in cuffs, they didn’t initially realize that anything was wrong.

“He snored right now,” the officer said.

It’s not until more than five minutes later that someone suggests checking Valenzuela’s pulse. After another couple of minutes, EMS showed up to start CPR, but Valenzuela was pronounced dead at the scene.

Excerpt from KRQE’s story

The officer was relieved of duties last week after the department received the autopsy report on Thursday. He had been on administrative duties since Valenzuela’s death.

According to a complaint affidavit, the autopsy report revealed a fracture to Valenzuela’s thyroid cartilage, deep inside the neck. That was the cause of death.

Smelser told investigators he used his right arm to use the vascular neck restraint under Valenzuela’s chin, the affidavit said.

The affidavit also said, the investigator, “feels there is sufficient probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant.”

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