Solomon Peña: Failed GOP candidate arrested on suspicion of orchestrating shootings at houses of Democrats in New Mexico, police say


CNN

A former Republican candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives – who police said alleged voter fraud after his defeat – was arrested Monday by a SWAT team in Albuquerque in connection with a series of shootings that recently damaged homes of elected Democrat leaders were announced by the city police.

Solomon Peña, who lost his bid for State House District 14 in 2022, is accused of paying and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners, Albuquerque police said .

“He is believed to be the mastermind” behind the shootings that took place in December and early January, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said at a news conference.

CNN reached out to Peña’s campaign website for comment and was unable to identify his attorney.

Before the shootings, in November, after losing the election, Peña had approached one of the MPs and some district commissioners at their homes with documents he said had been involved in election fraud, police said.

The investigation confirmed that “these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Monday.

“Ultimately, this was about a right-wing extremist, a stand-out who was arrested today and who did the worst thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which is to turn it into violence,” said Keller, a Democrat. “We know we don’t always agree with our elected officials, but that should never lead to violence.”

Doubts about the veracity of the election, mostly among Republicans and usually without evidence, have exploded across the country since then-President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid and began spreading falsehoods that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The allegations have fueled anger – and unapologetic threats of violence – against officials down to the local level.

Peña is charged in connection with four shootings: a December 4 incident at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa; a December 8 shooting at the home of new House Speaker Javier Martinez; a December 11 shooting at the home of then-Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O’Malley; and a Jan. 3 shooting at the home of Sen. Linda Lopez, police said in a news release.

In the most recent shooting, police found evidence: “Peña himself took part in this shooting and actually pulled the trigger on at least one of the firearms used,” the Albuquerque Deputy Police Chief said. said Kyle Hartsock. But an AR pistol he intended to use malfunctioned, and more than a dozen shots were fired from a separate pistol by another gunman, the police statement said.

The department is still investigating whether the alleged shootings “even knew who those targets were, or just conducted shootings,” Hartsock added.

“No one was injured in the shooting, which resulted in damage to four homes,” the Albuquerque Police Department said in a press release.

During the fall campaign, Peña’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia, sued to remove Peña from the ballot, arguing Peña’s status as an ex-criminal should prevent him from running for public office in the state, CNN affiliate KOAT reported as a candidate. Peña served nearly seven years in prison after being convicted in 2008 of stealing a large quantity of merchandise in a “smash-and-grab scheme,” the KOAT report said.

“You can’t hide from your own story,” Peña told the outlet in September. “All I had was a desire to better my lot in life.”

According to KOAT, a county court judge ruled that Peña was allowed to run in the elections. He lost his race against Garcia, 26% to 74%.

“After the November election, Solomon Peña reached out and hired someone, for a sum of money, to commit at least two of those shootings. The addresses of the shootings were given over the phone,” Hartsock said on Monday, citing the investigation. “In one instance, the shooting took place within a few hours at the legislature’s home.”

Gun evidence, surveillance video, cellphone and electronic recordings, and witnesses in and around the conspiracy aided the investigation and helped officials connect five people to the conspiracy, Hartsock said.

Detectives served search warrants Monday at Peña’s apartment and the home of two men allegedly paid by Peña, police said in the statement, adding Peña did not speak to detectives.

Officials arrested Peña on suspicion of “helping to orchestrate and participate in these four shootings, either at his request or personally conducted them himself,” Hartsock added.

Police announced last week that they had a suspect in custody and had obtained a firearm linked to one of the shootings at the homes of elected officials. A car driven at one of the filming locations was registered to Peña, the department said.

“Detectives no longer believe the shootings are linked to reports of gunfire near an attorney general’s campaign office or a state senator’s law office,” the press release said.

Debbie O’Malley, a former Bernalillo County Commissioner whose home was shot, is pleased with the arrest, she said.

“I am very relieved – and so is my family. I am very grateful for the police work,” O’Malley told CNN Monday night. O’Malley and her husband were sleeping on Dec. 11 when more than a dozen shots were fired at their Albuquerque home, she said.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa discovered the shooting at her home after she returned from Christmas shopping, she said.

“It was terrifying. My house had four shots through the front door and windows where just hours before my grandchild and I were playing in the living room,” Barboa said in a statement. “This attack continues to be incredibly difficult to process, especially knowing that other women and elected officials of color with children and grandchildren have been targeted.”

House Speaker Javier Martinez, whose home was also shot, is grateful a suspect is in custody, he told CNN in a statement. “We’ve seen far too much political violence lately, and all of these events are stark reminders that stoking fear, raising tension and fomenting hatred can have devastating consequences,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Debbie O’Malley’s first name.

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