EL PASO, Texas — The City of Las Cruces settled a civil lawsuit with the family of Antonio Valenzuela, who died on Feb. 29, after allegedly being restrained in a chokehold by former Las Cruces police officer Christopher Smelser.
“We are pleased to announce that the City has agreed to our demands to resolve this case,” said family attorney Sam Bregman, of The Bregman Law Firm, P.C., based in Albuquerque.
The City agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to the family.
“We will not be disclosing the amount of compensation that has been received,” said Bregman. “However, we are confident that we have made it cost prohibitive for the Las Cruces Police Department to continue wrongfully killing its citizens.
Smelser allegedly killed 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, officials said.
Smelser, who originally was charged with manslaughter, now faces second-degree murder charges.
As part of the agreement, the City of Las Cruces agreed to present for approval by the City Counsel the following items for formal adoption into the policies of the Las Cruces Police Department:
1. Adoption of a policy banning all forms of choke holds. This policy will also allow for immediate termination of an officer who violates the policy.
2. Adoption of a policy requiring that officers intervene which they are aware of or witness an unconstitutional use of force by a fellow officer. This policy will also allow for the immediate termination of an officer who violates the policy.
3. Adoption of a policy requiring annual or at a minimum bi-annual deescalation training for every law enforcement officer of the City.
4. Adoption of an annual or at a minimum bi-annual training in empathy and racial bias for every law enforcement officer of the City.
5. Adoption of a policy requiring all uses of force by all officers whether uniformed or plan clothed to be reported, investigated, and stored for a period of time not less than required under the New Mexico Retention of Records Act.
6. Adoption by the Las Cruces Police Department of a red flag warning system to track use of force by officers the purpose of which is to identify officers who use unreasonable force.
7. Adopt a policy where the Las Cruces Police Department will report every six months to the Las Cruces City Council all use of force incidents by its officers, and any discipline received by officers related to any policy during the six-month period.
8. Adopt a policy requiring Officers to submit to mental health exam on an annual basis which will be administered by a licensed psychiatrist which will certify fitness for duty.