Ex-GOP candidate charged in shootings at New Mexico lawmakers’ homes

Solomon Pena, center, a Republican candidate for New Mexico House District 14, is taken into custody January 16 by Albuquerque police officers in southwest Albuquerque, NM.Roberto E. Rosales/The Associated Press

A failed Republican candidate, who authorities said was furious at his November defeat, is facing multiple charges in connection with car shootings that targeted the homes of Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico’s largest city.

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

Pena, a criminal whose criminal history was a controversial topic during last year’s election campaign, made repeated unfounded claims that the election against him was “rigged” as he chanted “Trump 2024” flags and a “Make America Great.” Again” hoodie posed.

“I disagree. I’m the MAGA king,” he posted the day after the election. And on November 15 he added: “I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now I’m researching my options.”

He was being held pending a first court appearance on Wednesday on charges including multiple shootings at a house and shooting from a motor vehicle, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and felon possession of a firearm.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina described Pena as the “mastermind” of an apparently politically motivated conspiracy that led to shootings at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators between early December and early January.

No one was hurt, but in one instance, 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. Pena received only 26% of the vote but refused to budge.

Pena then showed up uninvited at the homes of elected officials, allegedly bringing with him documents proving he had won his race, police said. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud or an irregularity with enough votes to change a result in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022.

According to a criminal complaint, the shootings began just days after those 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,” said Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat. “But I know we’re going to push back, and we’re not going to let that cross the threshold.”

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.”

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 recordings, text messages containing elected officials’ addresses, witness interviews and bullet casings collected near lawmakers’ homes. His arrest came a week after Medina announced they had identified a suspect in the shooting.

A lawyer for Pena who could comment on the allegations was not listed in the court filing as of Tuesday.

Authorities across the country are concerned about increasing threats against members of Congress, school boards, election officials and other government officials. In Albuquerque, law enforcement is also struggling to address years of record-breaking murders and persistent 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.

Technology that can detect the sound of gunfire 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 as Jose Trujillo, was arrested on an outstanding warrant, leading to the discovery of more than 800 fentanyl pills and two firearms in the car.

The criminal complaint includes text messages shared between Pena, Trujillo, another man identified as Demetrio Trujillo, and two unnamed brothers. One of the messages referred to officials confirming the election in November, saying, “They sold us to the highest bidder.”

Investigators said it appeared the men used code words; Some messages indicated meetings in the Albuquerque area. An image shared via text showed Pena and Jose Trujillo together in a vehicle, and another showed Jose Trujillo eating at a table with a series of handguns.

The police complaint is based in part on the testimony of a confidential witness who said he had “personal and intimate knowledge of the crimes” and was present at most of the shootings.

This witness told authorities that Pena paid $500 to have the men do a “job” with guns provided by the witness. He said one of the men told the shooters to aim over the windows so as not to hit anyone inside, but that wasn’t enough for Pena who wanted them to shoot deeper and that Pena was there for the Lopez shoot, “to ensure a better goal acquisition.”

The witness said Pena and two of the men jumped into a stolen pickup truck to shoot the Lopez home as it drove past, and while Pena’s gun jammed and did not fire properly, Jose Trujillo’s pistol did.

Pena’s insistence that the men would act more aggressively unnerved the other participants “as they knew it would likely result in death or injury,” said the witness, who is being prosecuted and has pleaded for leniency. Authorities said no such promises had been made.

Police said more arrests and charges are expected, but declined to elaborate.

Pena spent nine years behind bars after his April 2007 arrest for stealing electronics and other goods from several retail stores as part of what authorities then described as a burglary. He was released from prison in March 2016, and his voting rights were restored after serving five years of probation in April 2021, correctional facility officials said.