Ex-GOP candidate arrested in shootings at New Mexico state legislature homes

January 17, 2023

From RIO YAMAT Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — A failed Republican candidate who authorities say was furious at his defeat and made unsubstantiated claims that last November’s election was “rigged” against him, has been arrested in connection with a series of car shootings , which targeted the homes of Democrat lawmakers in New Mexico’s largest city.

Solomon Pena, 39, was arrested Monday night just hours after SWAT officers took him into custody and served search warrants on him at his home, police said.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina described Pena as the “mastermind” of what he believes to be a politically motivated conspiracy that led to shootings at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislatures between early December and early January.

No one was injured in the shooting, but in one instance three bullets went through the bedroom of a senator’s 10-year-old daughter.

Pena ran unsuccessfully in November against incumbent Congressman Miguel P. Garcia, the longtime Democrat representing House District 14 in the South Valley. Garcia won by 48 percentage points, or around 3,600 votes.

After the election, police said, Pena showed up uninvited at the homes of elected officials and allegedly brought documents proving he had won his race. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022.

The shootings began shortly after these talks.

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

Four men were conspiring with Pena, who is accused of paying them cash to conduct at least two of the drive-by shootings in stolen vehicles, while Pena “pushed the trigger” in one of the crimes, Deputy Police Commander Kyle Hartsock said.

Detectives identified Pena as their prime suspect using a combination of cellphone and vehicle records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected from lawmakers’ homes, police said. His arrest came a week after Medina announced they had identified a suspect in the shooting.

An attorney for Pena who could comment on the allegations was not listed in prison records Monday night.

No one was injured in the shooting, which took place amid a surge in threats against members of Congress, school board members, election officials and other government officials across the country. In Albuquerque, law enforcement is struggling to deal with years of record killings and gun violence.

The shooting began on December 4 when eight shots were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, the home of State Assemblyman Javier Martinez was attacked, followed by a December 11 shooting at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. More than a dozen rounds were fired at her home, according to police.

The last related shooting, targeting the home of state Senator Linda Lopez, occurred at midnight on January 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired and Lopez said three of the bullets went through her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

Investigators were given a break in the case after technology that can detect the sound of gunshots led an officer to Lopez’s neighborhood shortly after the shots were fired.

The officer found bullet casings that matched a handgun found later that morning in a Pena-registered Nissan Maxima. Around 1:30 a.m., about an hour after the shooting at Lopez’s home, police pulled up the Nissan about 4 miles from the legislator’s neighborhood.

The driver, identified Monday night as Jose Trujillo, was arrested on an outstanding warrant, which led to the discovery of more than 800 fentanyl pills and two firearms in the car, police said.

A criminal complaint detailing the charges against the former political candidate should be released in the coming days. Further arrests and charges were also expected, but police declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.

Detectives were also investigating two other shootings they initially believed could be related to the Pena case: one near the former campaign office of New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez and another in state Senator Antonio Maestas’ office. Police said Monday the shootings do not appear to be connected.

The New Mexico Republican Party condemned Pena in a statement Monday night. “If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”