A closer look: Las Cruces police officer’s use of deadly force

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The fatal shooting of Terry Gomez is just the latest case where a Las Cruces Police officer is facing scrutiny for deadly force.

Last year one officer was cleared of charges, while another was charged just this month.  

In February 2020, former Las Cruces Police officer Christopher Smelser began to chase Antonio Valenzuela after he ran from a traffic stop.

Valenzula had a warrant out for his arrest. Smelser used a controversial means of getting Valenzula to stop – a chokehold also called a vasular neck restraint. 

Valenzuela was heard gasping for air on lapel camera video. He later died.

Smelser was fired and ultimately charged with second-degree murder. But after a three-day trial in Las Cruces in July 2022, judge Douglas Driggers tossed the charges.

Driggers said there was no way the prosecution could get a conviction based on the evidence they had. 

“The evidence presented to the court, the court is not satisfied that substantial evidence has been presented to show the requisite uh, essential element of attempt,” said Driggers.  

Just weeks after Smelser was cleared of the charges, Las Cruces Police officer Brad Lunsford shot and killed a man during a struggle at a gas station. 

Police went to the station after getting a call about an allegedly stolen beer. 

Officers said they could not identify Presley Eze. Their confrontation became physical. 

A video shows Eze holding a taser. Officer Lunsford then pulls out his gun, puts it to the back of Eze’s head, and fires. 

Earlier this month, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced his office is charging Lunsford with manslaughter.

“We determined that criminal charges were justified in this context,” said Torrez.  

He announced those charges on the same day 45-year-old Terry Gomez was shot and killed by an officer.