LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) – The trial for former Las Cruces Police officer Christopher Smelser, accused of killing a man during a traffic stop two years ago, started Monday.

The entire incident began when Las Cruces Police pulled over a vehicle in February 2020 and saw Antonio Valenzuela in the back seat. They realized that Valenzuela was wanted on drug charges. When officers asked him to get out of the vehicle, he ran, resulting in Smelser using a trained technique called a VNR or vascular neck restraint.

The restraint technique is used to make people pass out temporarily but in this case, it resulted in Valenzuela’s death.

According to the autopsy report the cause of death was asphyxiation and methamphetamines’ found in the victims body.

“Based on the cause of death, was the state communicated was asphyxiation by physical restraint and the toxic lethal levels of methamphetamine in his system. they do not stand alone,” says the defense.

The defense adds that there was no signs that choking occurred; but the prosecution says Smelser left his knee on his neck until Valenzuela’s body was limp.

Since the incident, the City of Las Cruces reached a settlement with the family of Valenzuela agreeing to ban all chokeholds and fire any officer who violates the new policy.

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