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New Mexico policeman charged with involuntary manslaughter after death of man in a neck restraint

A policeman in New Mexico has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after the death of a man held in a neck restraint during arrest.

Antonio Valenzuela, 40, died on February 29 after he was stopped by Las Cruces police.

Valenzuela had a warrant for parole violation and took off running, according to police.

Two officers used a taser twice without affecting Valenzuela.

Antonio Valenzuela died on February 29 after being placed in a neck restraint during arrest

He was captured and Christopher Smelser from Las Cruces police department held him in a neck restraint.

Valenzuela, a father of four, became unresponsive and died at the scene. 

Paramedics were called but were not able to save him. 

'It wasn't supposed to happen this way,' said his daughter, Alexis, 18. 

She told the Las Cruces Sun News: 'My dad wasn't violent. He didn't carry any weapons, nothing, for them to kill them the way they did.' 

Police said that Valenzuela was resisting arrest. 

'Valenzuela was continually struggling to get away, once on the ground, during this struggle, Officer Smelser applied a vascular neck restraint technique to gain control,' the Las Cruces police said in a statement posted on Facebook. 

'It is police policy that after any use of force, fire and ambulance are called upon to provide medical care, if necessary. 

'Mr Valenzuela was observed as non-responsive, EMS technicians attempted life-saving measures which were not successful.' 

Las Cruces police department announced on Thursday that Smelser had been fired

Smelser, who joined the force in 2016, was immediately placed on administrative leave, and the Las Cruces force was banned from using neck restraints.

On Thursday the autopsy was returned, showing that he died from asphyxial injuries caused by the chokehold.

'Words are insufficient to bring comfort to Antonio Valenzuela's family, but I extend my sincere condolences for their loss,' said Las Cruces police Chief Patrick Gallagher. 

'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 immediate initiate termination proceedings.'   

Valenzuela, a father of four, worked as a painter and a mechanic in New Mexico

The autopsy found Valenzuela had petechial, or pinpoint, hemorrhaging in his eyes and eyelids, which is indicative of asphyxiation and may occur when the neck or chest is compressed.

His neck had a deep muscle hemorrhage. His Adam's apple was crushed and his ribs were fractured. There was swelling in his brain, according to the report. 

The OMI report states methamphetamine also played a role in his death.

The report states the presence of meth can cause a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and an increased demand of oxygen. The meth likely placed increased stress on his cardiovascular system, according to the report.    

Valenzuela, a father-of-four, lived with his grandparents and worked a painter and mechanic.

He had a history of felony drug possession charges and minor traffic violations. 

Sylvia Montoya, Valenzuela's aunt, told the Sun-News she doesn't want another family to go through what her family has gone through.

'I don't want another person to get hurt,' she said. 

'I don't want to see another family go through our pain and I don't want to hear of another death at the hands of an officer. It's not right.'

Montoya said the family has had a difficult time processing Valenzuela's death.

'All we want is justice,' she said.  

The scene in Las Cruces where Valenzuela was killed on February 29

Chief of Las Cruces police, Patrick Gallagher, has expressed his condolences to the family

New Mexico police attend the scene in Las Cruces on February 29, which lost Valenzuela's life

The charges against Smelser come as police forces across the country are reviewing their tactics and policies in light of the killing of George Floyd.

Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a policeman, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on his neck for almost nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with murder.

Minneapolis police announced on Friday they were ending the use of what is known as the 'knee to neck maneuver' - a tactic that many forces already ban. 

Also on Friday, a judge in Denver ordered that police in the city could no longer freely use tear gas and rubber bullets to restrain protesters. 

And on Saturday morning two policemen in Buffalo, New York, were charged with assault after pushing a 75-year-old man during protests, who fell to the ground bleeding and remains in hospital.

Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski both pled not guilty to the charges.

Smelser is yet to enter a plea. 

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