Former Republican candidate arrested over shootings targeting Democrat homes

Solomón Peña ran for the New Mexico state legislature in 2022, but lost to the Democrat incumbent.

Solomón Peña, a Republican candidate for New Mexico, was taken into custody in connection with a recent series of shootings targeting Democrats Photograph: Roberto E Rosales/AP

Associated Press, via The Guardian
2023 Jan 17

A failed Republican state legislative candidate, who authorities say was angry over losing an election last November and made baseless claims that the vote was “rigged”, has been arrested in connection with a series of drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico’s largest city.

Albuquerque Police chief Harold Medina held a news conference on Monday evening hours after SWAT officers arrested Solomón Peña at his home.

Medina described Peña as the “mastermind” of what appears to be a politically motivated criminal conspiracy behind four shootings at, or near, the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators. The shooting took place between December and early January.

Peña lost an election in November to incumbent state Representative, Miguel P. García, the longtime Democrat representing House District 14 in New Mexico. García won by 48 percentage points, or roughly 3,600 votes.

Police said Peña had approached county and state lawmakers after his loss, claiming the contest had been rigged against him despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022. The shootings began shortly after those conversations.

New Mexico’s state Canvassing Board unanimously certified the results of the November election.

“This type of radicalism is a threat to our nation and has made its way to our doorstep right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “But I know we are going to push back, and we will not allow this to cross the threshold.”

Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said at least five people, including Peña, were involved in the shootings. Peña is accused of paying the others to carry out at least two of the shootings, according to Hartsock, before “Peña himself” allegedly “pulled the trigger” during one of crimes.

Police deliver a press conference after the arrest of Solomon Pena.
Police said at least five people, including Solomón Peña, were involved in the shootings. Photograph: Liam Debonis/Albuquerque Journal/ZUM/REX/Shutterstock

Police said they identified Peña as their “key” suspect using a combination of phone records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected at the Democrats’ homes.

A lawyer for Peña who could comment on the allegations wasn’t listed Monday night in jail records.

No one was injured in the shootings, which came amid a rise in threats to members of Congress, school board members, election officials and other government workers around the nation. In Albuquerque, law enforcement has been struggling to address back-to-back years of record homicides and persistent gun violence.

Hartsock said additional arrests and charges were expected in the case but declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation. He said some individuals, including Peña, were in custody Monday night.

A criminal complaint outlining the exact charges against Peña was expected to be released in the coming days.

The shootings began in early December when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, police said. Days later, former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s home was targeted.

As news reports began to surface about the shootings, state Representative Javier Martínez examined his property and discovered damage from gunshots. Police believe the shooting occurred in early December.

Then, during the first week of January, shots were fired at the home of state Senator Linda López – a lead sponsor of a 2021 bill that reversed New Mexico’s ban on most abortion procedures.

López said in a statement that three of the bullets passed through her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

Police had been investigating two additional shootings – one in the vicinity of New Mexico attorney general Raul Tórrez’s former campaign office and another at state Senator Antonio Maestas’ office. But Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesperson for the police department, said Monday the shootings do not appear to be connected to the case.

[NOTE: According to the Albuquerque Journal “Peña’s candidacy came under scrutiny over the Summer when his opponent, Rep. Miguel P. García, D-Albuquerque, filed a court challenge to disqualify him because he had been convicted in 2008 of stealing large amounts of goods from several big box retail stores in a reported “smash and grab” scheme. Peña served nearly seven years in prison.”]


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