• Las Cruces police officer allegedly killed 40-year-old man after placing him in chokehold
  • Victim pronounced dead at the scene
  • Coroner’s report confirmed he died from asphyxial injuries

A former New Mexico police officer was charged with second-degree murder Thursday, July 16, five months after he allegedly killed a detainee during a traffic stop.

The Las Cruces police officer, identified as Christopher Smelser, allegedly killed 40-year-old Antonio Valenzuela after placing him in a chokehold on Feb.29. Valenzuela allegedly fled during the traffic stop which resulted in a foot chase. The officer then applied the chokehold, resulting in Valenzuela’s death.

The victim was pronounced dead at the scene and the coroner’s report confirmed that he died from asphyxial injuries.

Meanwhile, in a police video, the cop was heard screaming, “I’m going to choke you out, bro.”

The officer was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter. Following an investigation, Smelser’s charged was increased to second-degree murder. He could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

On Thursday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said his office would be taking over the prosecution from the Third Judicial District Attorney’s office in Las Cruces.

“We are taking over prosecution and focusing on appropriate charges for violent and dangerous chokeholds,” Balderas, Las Cruces Sun Times reported.

Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio told the newspaper, "In the pursuit for justice and given the seriousness of the charges against Las Cruces Police Officer Smelser, we agreed that this case be adopted and prosecuted by the New Mexico Attorney General.”

Meanwhile, Smelser’s attorney, Amy L. Orlando, said the murder charge was just a political move to grab headlines.

“Officer Smelser used a technique that was sanctioned by the department. He was trained in the technique. And of a sudden it's banned after and he's a criminal,” Orlando said, Chron reported.

The upgradation in the officer’s charges comes amid massive protests in the United States following the death of George Floyd, an African-American who died after he was allegedly choked by a Minneapolis police officer with a knee during his arrest.

Last month, a New York police officer was suspended after he allegedly used an “apparent chokehold.” The officer was caught on camera putting an arm around a black man’s neck while the latter was face-down on the boardwalk.

Rallies are being held around the world this weekend to protest against racism and police brutality
People are seen protesting against racism and police brutality AFP / Tolga AKMEN