A New Mexico magistrate court judge ruled that a police officer charged with murder in the second degree should stand trial. The former Las Cruces Police Department officer is accused of using a chokehold to subdue a 40-year-old man who fled from the scene of a traffic stop on Feb. 29. The man was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency response workers. Charges were filed against the former officer after a medical examiner determined that the man had died from injuries caused by asphyxiation. The judge handed down the ruling following a probable cause hearing that lasted for two days.
Attorney general takes over the case
The former officer was originally charged with manslaughter in connection with the man’s death, but that charge was upgraded to second-degree homicide when the New Mexico attorney general took over the case in July. On Aug. 19, local media outlets reported that the City of Las Cruces agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the man’s family.
Vascular neck restraint
During the preliminary hearing, the former officer’s attorney said that the homicide charge was politically motivated. She also claimed that her client used a lateral vascular neck restraint, or LVNR, and not a chokehold to subdue the man. An LVNRs is an approved Las Cruces Police Department technique. A police department representative testified that both video evidence and witness testimony indicated that the former officer did not use an LVNR.
The burden of proof in civil cases
Not all police officers who abuse suspects face criminal charges, but that does not mean their victims are unable to pursue civil remedies. Attorneys with experience in cases involving civil rights violations may explain that the standard of proof is not as strict in wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits as it is in criminal trials. Prosecutors must prove their allegations beyond reasonable doubt, but all a civil plaintiff has to do to prevail is present more convincing evidence than the defendant.