January 19, 2021

Officer on video saying he’ll ‘choke you out’ before man dies is charged with manslaughter

Body camera footage obtained Sunday shows a New Mexico police officer telling a man he’s going to “choke you out” before allegedly causing his death with what authorities described as a “vascular neck restraint.”

The officer, Christopher Smelser, was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter in the Feb. 29 death of Antonio Valenzuela. On the same day, the Las Cruces Police Department filed a letter of intent to fire Smelser.

In a statement, chief Patrick Gallagher cited the conclusions of an autopsy report, which he received on June 4 and which listed Valenzuela’s cause of death as “asphyxia injuries due to physical restraint,” according to documents obtained by NBC News. Gallagher added that the department immediately prohibited the use of the vascular neck restraint.

Methamphetamines found in Valenzuela’s system also “significantly” contributed to his death, the autopsy says.

A spokeswoman for the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, which conducted the autopsy in Valenzuela’s death, said that death investigations typically take six to 10 weeks or more.

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