Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Police bodycam shows violent encounter in Las Cruces

Note: This story contains descriptions of domestic violence and violence against women. La Casa offers emergency shelter via walk-in between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm or by calling 575-526-9513.

LAS CRUCES – A police officer and a man accused of shooting his wife exchanged gunfire in the middle of Espina Street. A few minutes later, a police K-9 and several police officers detained the bloodied man and charged him with attempted murder.

A new video, obtained by the Sun-News via a public records request, shows what happened in between. While the man was partly surrounded by a half dozen rifle-wielding officers, Las Cruces police unleashed a police K-9 onto Julian Valenzuela before moving in to arrest the man.

Valenzuela, 34, is charged with one count of attempted murder, four counts of abuse of a child, and one count of shooting at or from a motor vehicle.

He’s also charged with one count of aggravated assault upon a peace officer, one count of aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one count of receipt, transportation or possession of a firearm by a felon, and one count of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.

In March, police said Valenzuela shot his wife in front of their four kids at their home on the 700 block of Shannon Street. He then shot at a neighbor before shooting a police officer and eventually crashed into another vehicle at the University Avenue and Espina intersection. Valenzuela’s wife survived the shooting, police said.

Now, body camera video from the police officer who is also a K-9 handler who shot back at Valenzuela shows how the encounter started and came to an end.

After police released the body camera video on April 22, City of Las Cruces Dan Trujillo said that the Las Cruces Police Department would not disclose the name of the officer since the incident was still being investigated by the Officer-Involved Task Force.

Trujillo did confirm that the officer was placed on leave after the incident but has since returned to the force.

The video begins with two officers surveying a house on the 1100 block of Larry Drive. It’s unclear if they were involved in the investigation into Valenzuela before this point. Larry Drive is several city blocks from Shannon Street where police had recently discovered Valenzuela’s wife.

Shootout, crash on Espina

The body camera footage then shows the officers at Larry Drive getting back into their patrol cars. The police K-9 that would later savage Valenzuela’s arm can be heard whining in the back seat.

As the officer pulls onto South Espina Street headed north, he spots Valenzuela driving in the opposite direction. The officer then whips around and begins pursuing Valenzuela, informing other police that he spotted the man.

The chase lasts only a few seconds. Valenzuela slows down and shoots three times at the officer. At the same time, the officer slows down, opens his door to use it as cover, and returns fire. The video shows the officer shooting at Valenzuela six times while Valenzuela begins to drive toward New Mexico State University.

An LCPD officer fires his gun at Julian Valenzuela near the intersection of South Espina Street and Fearny Street on March 4, 2022.

As the officer gets back into his unit, two other police units speed past him. The officer’s K-9 can be heard barking in the back seat as police say further up the road over the scanner that Valenzuela has crashed into another vehicle.

When the officer arrives at University Avenue and Espina Street, several police units have surrounded Valenzuela’s Hyundai Elentra which is smoking and wrecked from the impact and in the middle of the intersection.

Gun in hand, the officer hops out of his unit and shouts, “Show your (expletive) hands! Do it now! Do it now!” to Valenzuela, who is still in the driver’s seat of the vehicle.

Other officers began shouting similar statements. At first, it’s unclear from the video if Valenzuela is responsive. Then his door opens and Valenzuela spills out onto the pavement.

“I got the dogs!” the officer says as he moves away from the other officers and toward his police dog. The officer quickly grabs the K-9 and trots him over to the frontline. Valenzuela can be seen moving near his car but remains mostly shielded from view by his car door.

“Crawl forward!” another officer shouts.

K-9 thrashes Valenzuela’s arm

The officer then moves to the right side of the police line and prepares to unleash his K-9. The police K-9 continues to bark and whine as he and the officer move in front of the Starbucks at the corner of that intersection.

The officer threatens to send the dog at Valenzuela if he doesn’t comply with a command, although the audio is unintelligible making it unclear what he was commanding Valenzuela to do.

“Ready?” he asks another officer.

The video is then blurred and some of the audio cuts out. According to a member of the City of Las Cruces’ Clerks Office, a portion of the video was redacted before being provided to the Sun News. Per New Mexico law, public agencies are required to state the reason for a redaction when fulfilling public records requests.

The clerk’s office cited an exception that allows redactions of “portions of law enforcement records that reveal confidential sources, methods, or information.”

The editorials began as the officer releases the K-9, who dashes toward Valenzuela.

An officer (not pictured) prepares to unleash a police dog on Julian Valenzuela on March 4, 2022.

The video’s audio reemerges as officers swarm in on Valenzuela, but the video remains blurry. The outline of the police K-9 can be seen biting Valenzuela’s arm and thrashing back and forth. Valenzuela screams in pain as three or four officers attempt to handcuff him and pull the police K-9 off.

“You’re gonna get tased. Give me your other hand,” one officer says, referring to the hand the dog is savaging. “Give me your other hand now!”

Another officer interjects, saying, “let me get the dog.”

The audio cuts again but the officer can be seen grabbing the police K-9’s harness and attempting to pull him off of Valenzuela. A few seconds later, the audio returns. The dog is still trashing Valenzuela’s arm as he cries out in pain. A minute passes but the officer is unable to get the dog off of Valenzuela.

The police K-9 seemingly mauled Valenzuela for just under two minutes before the officer regains control, though the video remains blurry throughout the interaction.

Julian Valenzuela is pinned by three LCPD officers after a dog mauled his arm on March 4, 2022.

As the video regains full video resolution, the officer walks the snarling police K-9 away from Valenzuela. Another officer asks what happened.

“He shot at me three times at Gardner. I shot back,” the officer says.

That triggers a call declaring that the incident involved a police officer shooting.

“We need all this (expletive) shut down,” the officer says, referring to the stretch of South Espina Street where the shooting took place.

The officer then brings the police K-9 back to his patrol unit and calls him a good boy before shutting him inside his patrol unit. The officer breathes heavily for a while as the situation sputters out.

Valenzuela is currently being held in jail without bond. A judge ruled that Valenzuela was dangerous and that no conditions of release could reasonably ensure the public’s safety. Valenzuela is scheduled for a trial in July as of the publication of this article.

Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at JE [email protected]

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