LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – A family wants justice. Their attorney accuses a Las Cruces police officer of murdering Antonio Valenzuela and said that is the charge the cop should be facing. However, the attorney believes the district attorney is going easy on the officer.
Valenzuela ran from officers during a traffic stop earlier this year. During a struggle, officers tried tasing him. When that did not work, the situation turned deadly. Now, Valenzuela’s attorney is fighting for a harsher punishment for the officer involved.
“If someone is choking you so hard you can’t breath, what are you going to do,” attorney Sam Bregman asked.
It all began during a traffic stop in February. Police put Valenzuela in a chokehold, resulting in his death. In the police video, you can hear the officer tell Valenzuela that he is going to “choke him out.”
“‘I am going to choke you out bro,'” Bregman repeated. “These are the police officers words. You can hear in the video the gurgling of him being choked to death.”
The police officer, Christopher Smelser, was fired last week and is now charged with involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to a year and a half in prison. Bregman does not think that is nearly enough.
“Come on,” Bregman said. “This is sickening, but now it is being enhanced by the district attorney’s office basically to do a slap on the wrist charge.”
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Bregman said what Smelser did warrants second-degree murder charges which carry a sentence of up to 15 years.
“My concern is justice to make sure he is prosecuted to the fullest, not the least extent,” Bregman said. “That is what is going on. This is the smallest thing to charge him with.”
Bregman was joined by Valenzuela’s family Tuesday afternoon. They said recent nationwide protests highlight the need to hold more officers accountable. “Obviously there is such national news going on with the same issues, it hits home everywhere they look right now,” Bregman said.
Bregman’s asked the Dona Ana County district attorney to increase the charges to get justice for the family. “The cold indifference of these police officers is sickening, and we should not tolerate it anywhere, especially Las Cruces,” Bregman said.
Police later said Valenzuela was reaching for a knife when they tackled him, but Bregman claimed Tuesday that is not true. Police also said that there was a warrant out for Valenzuela at the time on drug charges. Smelser was released from jail Monday. Bregman claims Smelser had Valenzuela in a chokehold for two minutes.