EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – All charges were dropped against former Las Cruces officer Christopher Smelser, who was accused of causing the death of Antonio Valenzuela back in February 2020.
After three days of testimony, Judge Douglas Driggers said there was not enough probable evidence. Smelser was facing manslaughter charges.
The former LCPD officer was accused of killing Antonio Valenzuela, 40, while using a chokehold technique. After the incident, Smelser was fired and the Las Cruces Police Department prohibited the use of neck restraints during apprehensions.
Valenzuela was a passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop, and officers realized he had a warrant for an arrest for drug charges. He tried to flee on foot, was tased but didn’t work and Smelser used the vascular neck restraint on him.
Autopsy revealed Valenzuela died from “asphyxia injuries”. Methamphetamine was also found in his system, which contributed to his death.
Valenzuela’s family received a $6.5 million settlement after his death. LCPD banned all chokeholds and a new policy of firing any officer who violates it was implemented.
Smelser’s defense spoke with media after the verdict and stated that now is time for Chris and his family to move forward.
However New Mexico attorney general Hector Balderas believes that judge Driggers should have let the trial go to the jury and that he denied them the opportunity to consider all of the evidence. despite the setback Balderas says the state will continue to try cases similar to Smelser’s.
“I think he is thrilled his family is relieved he knew he didn’t do anything wrong that night its a tragic thing that Mr. Valenzuela died, nobody’s happy about that but there was so much else going on that night and i think its just a burden off of everybody that people cant take a breath now his family and Chris.”-Amy Orlando, Defense Attorney
“I’m disappointed but we will continue to pursue these types of similar cases and advocate that they go before a jury of our peers in our own community to really heal the differences between the divide in our communities.”
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