Attorney General Hector Balderas
SANTA FE — Attorney General Hector Balderas has announced that the Office of the Attorney General has taken over the prosecution of former Las Cruces Police Department Officer Christopher Smelser, who stands accused of killing Antonio Valenzuela while in his custody.
The Office of the Attorney General has taken the case at the request of the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
In addition to taking the case, the Office of the Attorney General has increased the charges that Smelser will face to second degree murder.
“We are taking over prosecution and focusing on appropriate charges for violent and dangerous chokeholds,” Balderas said.
District Attorney Mark D’Antonio added: “My office maintains the integrity of the fair trial process, in the continuation of our efforts to insure justice is served for the victims and defendants. Since this incident occurred, Attorney General Hector Balderas and his staff have been in contact with my office regarding this case, as well as police and law enforcement reforms and accountability for the use of deadly force including the ban placed on chokehold restraint techniques. 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.”
After working with the District Attorney to fully review the case, the Office of the Attorney General determined that the evidence warrants a charge of second degree murder. Smelser was originally charged with manslaughter.