A former Las Cruces, New Mexico, police officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter Friday for allegedly killing a suspect who was fleeing and resisting arrest with a chokehold, NBC News reported.
Former Officer Christopher Smelser reportedly killed Antonio Valenzuela on Feb. 29. Valenzuela was pulled over and he had warrants for parole and probation violations. He tried to run away, and officers were unable to subdue him even after tasing him multiple times.
Body camera footage records Smelser telling Valenzuela "I'm going to f*** choke you out, bro," followed by the apparent sound of Valenzuela choking. He died at the scene.
The autopsy report lists the cause of death as "asphyxia injuries due to physical restraint," and noted that methamphetamines "significantly" contributed to his death.
The police report indicates that Smelser restrained Valenzuela with a "lateral vascular neck restraint," a controversial method that has since been banned by the Las Cruces Police Department.
Smelser's lawyer said Valenzuela had some kind of weapon in his pocket that he allegedly reached for during the altercation, although she did not detail what the weapon was, and there's no indication the weapon was taken out of the pocket during the incident.
Sam Bregman, the lawyer representing Valenzuela's family, said that Valenzuela was not attacking officers or brandishing a weapon, so there was no reason for the situation to escalate like it did.
"He was running away," Bregman said. "There was absolutely no justification to choke him, and certainly nothing to justify killing him. ... This police officer literally said, 'I'm going to choke you out, bro.' That is not involuntary manslaughter. That is second-degree manslaughter."
The police department filed a letter of intent to fire Smelser on the same day he was charged. Police use of force is under greater scrutiny nationwide after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.