Probable cause found to charge officer in Latino man's death

Former Las Cruces Police officer Christopher Smelser has been charged with second-degree murder after authorities say he killed a detainee he placed in a chokehold. 

LAS CRUCES — A Magistrate Court judge has ruled there is probable cause to charge a former Las Cruces police officer in the choking death of a Mexican American man.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports 3rd Judicial District Court Judge Casey Fitch ruled this week there was enough evidence to order former Las Cruces police officer Christopher Smelser to stand trial for second-degree murder.

Smelser is accused of the Feb. 29 chokehold death of Antonio Valenzuela after he fled from a traffic stop.

Valenzuela, 40, had a warrant out for his arrest because of a parole violation and fought with officers who tried to detain him after he fled from a traffic stop. Valenzuela died at the scene.

The coroner determined Valenzuela died from asphyxial injuries and that he had methamphetamine in his system, which contributed to his death.

Las Cruces Detective Shane Brisco, who has trained officers in defensive tactics and is a proponent of vascular neck restraints, testified that Smelser held Valenzuela in a hold for too long.

Smelser’s attorney, Amy L. Orlando, said Smelser had been trained to use the hold and the murder charge was a political move meant to grab headlines.

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