June 6 (UPI) — A police officer in Las Cruces, N.M., has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after using a choke hold that killed a man in February.
According to a statement from the Las Cruces Police Department, on Feb. 29 Las Cruces Police Officer Christopher Smelser “utilized a vascular neck restraint technique,” which resulted in the death of auto mechanic Antonio Valenzuela.
Police said during a traffic stop Valenzuela, 40, fled on foot and police chased him, deployed a Taser twice and then restrained him.
Valenzuela died at the scene. The department has since prohibited use of vascular neck restraint during apprehensions.
The Las Cruces Police also terminated Smelser’s employment Friday after the medical examiner ruled that Valenzuela’s death was a homicide.
“Words are insufficient to bring comfort to Antonio Valenzuela’s family, but I extend my sincere condolences for their loss,” Police Chief Patrick Gallagher said in a statement. “It is a tragic day for everyone involved when there is an in-custody death or a death as a result of a police apprehension. Once we learned of the findings in the Medical Investigator’s report, we felt in necessary to immediately initiate termination proceedings.”