Story at a glance

  • The city announced a deal with the family of slain Antonio Valenzuela who was killed by police in February.
  • Having officers undergo mental health checkups is one of the new conditions.

The city of Las Cruces, N.M., has elected to provide racial bias training for its police department and require officers to stop using chokeholds and other possible instances of excessive force following the death of Antonio Valenzuela, a Latino man, the Associated Press (AP) reports

Announced on Thursday, a deal was struck between the city and Valenzuela’s family as part of their campaign for police reforms in Las Cruces in conjunction with the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city police department.

As part of the deal, the Las Cruces police have officially banned all chokeholds and will immediately fire any officer who uses them. Police are also required to implement a warning system for officers who use excessive force and implement a new policy so officers can receive annual mental health exams. The terms must still be agreed to be the city council.


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Las Cruces also agreed to compensate the family. Valenzuela was killed in February after former officer Christopher Smelser used a chokehold on him after he fled after being pulled over during a traffic stop. 

Smelser, who is white, was reportedly heard over the police radio saying “I’m going to (expletive) choke you out, bro.”

Valenzuela died at the scene from asphyxial injuries as well as effects from methamphetamine found in his system. Smelser faces second-degree murder charges. 

“We are confident that we have made it cost-prohibitive for the Las Cruces Police Department to continue wrongfully killing its citizens,” said attorney Sam Bregman who represented the Valenzuela family.

Las Cruces spokesperson Adrian Guzman said several of the policies have already been implemented. 

“For the past five years, the city engaged a police audit firm that reported internal affairs complaints and reported on the number of use of force complaints,” Guzman said. 

AP points out The Washington Post compiled data showcasing that Las Cruces had the highest per capita rate of police killings in the nation between January 2015 and April 2020. Some 60 percent of its residents are Hispanic.

Las Cruces is one of the latest cities to heed the calls from the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, including Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed at the hands of a white police officer. 


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Published on Aug 13, 2020