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‘An amazing son to have’: Mother of former Las Cruces officer charged with murder speaks out

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Long before his use of a controversial police tactic that took a man's life, Christopher Smelser's mother told ABC-7 her son was a kind and loving student, athlete and public servant.

"The way we raised him was to be respectful and to have ambition and goals," said Selina Smelser, Christopher's mother.

The former Las Cruces Police Department officer had a passion for athletics, playing on the Oñate High School football team, his mother said. He graduated with a degree in criminal justice from New Mexico State University.

"He knew that this was not going to be an easy job," his mother admitted. "He knew he was going to be put in potentially difficult situations, but he also knew that there's good and bad and he wanted to be on the good side."

The young officer recently became a father.

"His little girl absolutely adores him," Smelser said. "She just turned three years old. She is definitely a daddy's girl."

In early June, Valenzuela was charged with involuntary manslaughter for use of a vascular neck restraint that ultimately killed Antonio Valenzuela in February of this year.

“What they did to him was wrong," Valenzuela's sister Valerie Chavez told ABC-7 in June. "They could have done things differently and used their training.”

“He was trained to do this by his department," said Smelser's mother. "His chief, Chief Gallagher approved this, signed off on this and if this was something they did not want to be in the academy, then they should have never taught it.”

On Thursday, her son's charge was increased from involuntary manslaughter to second-degree murder as the state attorney general took over the prosecution from the local district attorney.

“We are taking over prosecution and focusing on appropriate charges for violent and dangerous chokeholds,” said state Attorney General Hector Balderas.

“There are no new facts that would warrant the change in charge from a manslaughter to a second degree felony," said Susana Muñoz, Smelser's attorney. "You don’t get to change the rules in the middle of a game."

“This is a tragedy for everyone involved," Smelser's mother said. "We just hope and believe that the community will see this and they will understand that this is a good person. He was essentially used as a scapegoat for a very unhealthy and damaging climate."

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Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is a former ABC-7 New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and weekend evening newscast anchor.


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