Ex-Las Cruces police officer’s murder trial to start Monday | Business News

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A fired Las Cruces police officer who put a suspect in a fatal chokehold is set to begin his murder trial next week.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reports opening statements are scheduled for Monday in the trial of Christopher Smelser.

The former officer is accused of causing the February 2020 death of Antonio Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, 40, was a passenger in a vehicle that officers stopped. When officers realized he had a warrant out for drug charges, Valenzuela fled.

Smelser was one of two officers who tried to detain him.

Body camera footage shows Smelser use a chokehold after a taser didn’t work. Authorities say police realized five minutes later that Valenzuela was dead.

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

The Las Cruces Police Department fired Smelser, who was charged with manslaughter. Attorney General Hector Balderas’s office later took over the case and upgraded the charge to second-degree murder.

Smelser’s attorney, Amy L. Orlando, has previously said Smelser used the chokehold as part of his training and the murder charge was a headline-grabbing political move.

Valenzuela’s death led to a $6.5 million settlement with his family as well as changes with Las Cruces police. These include banning all chokeholds and firing any officer who violates the new policy.

For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, KRQE-TV.

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