NMSP officer arrested, charged with battery

........................................................................................................................................................................................

A New Mexico State Police officer, who has been on leave from his position, was arrested Thursday after police say he put a man repossessing his vehicle in a choke hold.

Charles Vernier, 36, who is charged with aggravated battery and interference with a police officer, was released from the Valencia County Detention Center Friday after posting a $1,000 cash or surety bond.

Courtesy of Los Lunas Police Department: Charles Vernier, in back, is charged with battery for allegedly putting Robert Martinez, in front, in a choke hold while Martinez was repossessing his vehicle last week.

According to a statement released from State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, Vernier has been with the department for less than two years.

“At the time of this incident, officer Vernier was on leave for an unrelated reason I am not at liberty to disclose. An internal inquiry will be launched into this new incident immediately,” Kassetas said. “As chief, I take my officer’s conduct on and off duty seriously and I will not tolerate this type of behavior.”

According to a criminal complaint, Los Lunas Police Department officers were dispatched to the Casa De Chavez apartments on N.M. 314 at about 3 p.m. when a witness called saying a man was choking another man in the parking lot.

When officers arrived at the scene, they saw Vernier with his arm around the neck of Robert Martinez, the alleged victim and an employee with X-Factor, a repossession company. Officer Ryan Gray ordered Vernier several times to let Martinez go.

It wasn’t until the officer warned Vernier he would shoot him with his Taser that he let Martinez go. As Gray ordered the suspect to put his hands in the air, Vernier ran about 20 feet before tripping and falling, which allowed officers to take him into custody.

A video, taken by Martinez’s wife that LLPD released on Friday, showed her pleading with Vernier to let her husband go because he couldn’t breathe. Another video from the officer’s lapel camera showed Vernier’s interaction with police and his arrest.

During an interview with Vernier, according to the complaint, he told officers that when he tried to take his personal belonging from his truck, Martinez pushed him away and tried to grab the keys.

“I then placed him in a neck restraint,” Vernier told police. “I never choked him; I never put my elbow on his windpipe.”

Vernier told police he was restraining Martinez until they showed up.

When Gray informed him that he couldn’t put his hands on another person, Vernier responded by saying, “That’s not battery, that’s restraining somebody. Do you know who I am?”

He then said “That is what I have been paid to do for the last 13 years of my life.”

Officer Gray wasn’t aware that Vernier was a state police officer until medical personnel told him.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.