New Mexico officer charged with involuntary manslaughter after man put in neck restraint dies

A Las Cruces, N.M., police officer has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after a man he put in a neck restraint died in February, the Las Cruces Police Department announced Friday.

According to the police department, Las Cruces police officer Christopher Smelser detained Antonio Valenzuela during a traffic stop on Feb. 29. 

According to the police department, Valenzuela had an open warrant for a probation violation. 

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As Valenzuela fled on foot, the police department used stun guns to try to subdue him until Smelser caught up to him and used a “vascular neck restraint technique to gain control.”  

Emergency medical staff were called after the incident and “attempted life-saving measures which were not successful.”

The incident was investigated by New Mexico State Police. After receiving the autopsy on June 4, the police department announced on Friday that it would be dismissing Smelser.

“Words are insufficient to bring comfort to Antonio Valenzuela’s family, but I extend my sincere condolences for their loss,” Las Cruces Police Chief Patrick Gallagher said in a statement.

Charges against police officers are often harder to bring because of the so-called qualified immunity doctrine for law enforcement, which protects individual officers from lawsuits over actions they perform while on duty.

House Democrats plan to propose criminal justice legislation this week that would repeal the doctrine. 

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The use of chokeholds and other force tactics from law enforcement have faced scrutiny in recent weeks after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. 

Floyd’s death gained widespread attention after bystander video of an officer kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes went viral. On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council reached an agreement with state negotiators to ban the use of chokeholds by police.

Demonstrations protesting his death have popped up in dozens of cities across the U.S., where more instances of police violence have been documented