If Antonio Valenzuela would have simply complied he would be alive today, instead he ran, and made it worse.
I’m all for standing up against excessive use of force and in this case, the cop did use excessive force when he used vascular neck restraint. Which ultimately contributed to his death. At the same time it ALL could have been avoided if he complied and listened, he was given multiple chances and refused.
I love my Latinos and everyone but let’s call it how we see it. Antonio Valenzuela did not complied and the cop used excessive force. This is where REFORM comes in place, not DEFUND. This was also not about RACISM.
A person who speaks Spanish reports a thinly built male with a backpack is trying to break into a house in the 2900 block of Doña Ana Road. The Doña Ana Sheriff’s Office responds and Deputy David Dominguez asks Las Cruces police officers Andrew Tuton and Christopher Smelser to assist him in looking for the burglary suspect.
Jessica Barraza is hanging out at her friend Christina Apalateguy’s house on Richard Drive when Apalateguy’s cousin, Antonio Valenzuela, arrives at the home. He asks for a ride to a residence off Evelyn Street. Apalateguy says no, but Valenzuela is persistent and the two women eventually agree to take him. Barraza drives her blue truck. Apalateguy is in the passenger seat and Valenzuela is in the backseat.
Tuton sees a blue truck hesitate while pulling out from Richard Drive onto Doña Ana Road. Tuton gets the license plate and reads it over the police radio, but continues patrolling the neighborhood. Smelser is nearby and asks if Tuton needs backup
Sgt. Sean Terry sees the truck and asks if there is probable cause to stop it. Tuton says the vehicle had left a spot nearby where an alleged burglar lived and notes DASO is looking for a burglar in the area.
Smelser runs the license plate and it comes back with an insurance status unknown.
Terry pulls over the truck at 240 3 Crosses Avenue, in front of the Las Cruces Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. Tuton and Smelser also respond.
Terry approaches the driver’s side and advises Barraza on the reasons he pulled her over and asks for proof of insurance. Tuton approaches the passenger’s side. Terry asks Tuton if Valenzuela is wearing a seat belt. He’s not. Tuton says it’s not a big deal and asks for his identification. Valenzuela doesn’t have his ID, but provides his name. By this time, Smelser has also approached the passenger’s side and asks Valenzuela for his birth date.
Tuton begins interacting with Barraza and says they are assisting DASO in a burglary investigation. Smelser runs Valenzuela’s name and birth date through dispatch and learns there’s a felony warrant out for his arrest because of a parole violation.
Valenzuela is fidgety and scratching his leg. Tuton asks him if he has needles and then asks him to step out. Because the front seat doors don’t easily adjust, Valenzuela must climb over the center console and exit through the driver’s side. Tuton and Smelser relocate to the driver’s side before Valenzuela exits.
Shortly after Valenzuela exits, he takes off running north toward the church. Tuton and Smelser chase him. Terry stays with truck.
Barraza and Apalateguy are stunned. They can be heard saying: ‘What the f***?” “Oh my god!” “What the hell?” and “Wow! Dude, why did he run?”
Tuton falls as he chases Valenzuela and loses his Taser magazine. Smelser is in close pursuit and deploys his Taser four seconds into the chase, but it doesn’t connect. He deploys it again, and misses again, in the early part of the chase.
Valenzuela runs to a chain-link fence and climbs over it. Smelser tries to grab Valenzuela on the fence but is unable to pull him down. Smelser, who loses his Taser at this point, also climbs over the fence.
Smelser finally catches up with Valenzuela on the other side of the fence and pulls his jacket. Valenzuela wriggles free.
Tuton catches up and tackles Valenzuela, taking him to the ground, 24 seconds after the chase began.
Tuton and Smelser are both engaged with Valenzuela and try to get control of his hands.
“Give us your hands,” Tuton yells. “Hand out!”
Valenzuela responds with “Punk!” and “What the f***?”
Six seconds into the fight, Smelser says: “If you don’t f***ing stop bro, we’re gonna f*** you up!”
Tuton strikes Valenzuela. Valenzuela says: “Hit me harder.”
Tuton continues to say, “give us your hands” no fewer than six times, and observes Valenzuela reaching for the area around his right pocket.
Forty seconds into the fight, Tuton claims he has one of Valenzuela’s hands in his control.
A minute into the fight, Smelser tries to apply a vascular neck restraint and says: “Alright, you know what? I’m going to f***ing choke you out, bro.” Valenzuela continues to move and grunt loudly.
Tuton tries to “drive-stun” Valenzuela with his Taser but Valenzuela is able to block it.
Smelser still has Valenzuela in a VNR, however, and about 35 seconds after saying he would choke him out, Smelser appears to get a better hold. Sixteen seconds later, Smelser says: “Give up bro” several times.
The officers’ lapel cameras record Valenzuela gasping for air.
Another 19 seconds elapse — 2 minutes and 10 seconds since the fight began — and Valenzuela can be heard snoring.
Smelser continues to hold on for 12 more seconds. “Do you got him?” Smelser asks … 21 seconds, Smelser asks for help restraining a hand … 32 seconds, “Yeah we have it,” another officer says … 37 seconds, “Yeah, he’s out,” Smelser says … and 41 seconds after Valenzuela can first be heard snoring, someone says: “Let him go, let him go.”
Smelser requests dispatch to log the use of a vascular neck restraint.
Officer John Guaderrama is on scene and begins helping with the investigation. As Smelser and Tuton catch their breath, Guaderrama puts on a pair of latex gloves and begins to search Valenzuela. He finds a Gerber multi-tool knife and meth in his right front pocket. Tuton advises that’s where Valenzuela was reaching.
As Guaderrama is searching Valenzuela, Tuton asks him to check Valenzuela’s pulse. “He snored. He snored right now,” Guaderrama says and Tuton responds: “OK.”
Smelser begins chatting with Tuton, saying: “Bro, as soon as he said, ‘Do you want me to step out?’ I was like ah sh*t,” and then “F*** man, that was a good little fight.”
Later, Smelser comments: “Dude, I couldn’t get that f***ing VNR right, then finally I did, and he went out.”
First-responders arrive on scene and begin discussing how best to get Valenzuela from the back of the church to the ambulance since there is a chain-link fence in between. A Las Cruces Fire Department officer begins cutting a hole in the chain-link fence.
Smelser calls for Sgt. Terry to meet him near Valenzuela. It’s urgent.
Guaderrama again checks for a pulse on Valenzuela and can’t find one.
EMTs began performing CPR.
While first responders attend to Valenzuela, Tuton and Smelser recap the events of the night.
Smelser says he was mad at himself for recognizing the signs Valenzuela was going to run and not being more aggressive in trying to prevent him from doing so.
Tuton and Smelser began to worry that Valenzuela might die.
“He better not f***ing go out man,” Tuton says. “I really hope we didn’t f***ing kill somebody right now,” Smelser replies. Tuton tells Smelser that they did everything right and Smelser agrees.
Valenzuela is declared deceased.
Autopsy and aftermath
The OMI report states Valenzuela died from asphyxial injuries from physical restraint. It also states methamphetamine played a role in his death. The meth likely placed increased stress on his cardiovascular system, according to the report.
LCPD reported in a news release June 5 that it immediately banned the use of vascular neck restraints after Valenzuela’s death in February.
The controversial technique is at the center of a national conversation regarding police brutality after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd for several minutes, killing him, on May 25.