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Losing candidate arrested in shooting at New Mexico Democrats’ home

A failed New Mexico state House candidate described by police as an “election denier” was arrested Monday in a series of shootings at the homes of regional Democratic leaders.

Republican Solomon Pena is accused of conspiring with four men and paying four men to carry out four shootings at the Albuquerque-area homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two state lawmakers, a Albuquerque police said.

The former candidate may have been motivated by anger over his defeat in November, police said. Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos told a press conference early Monday night that Pena alleged his loss was the result of voter fraud.

Pena lost his statehouse challenge to incumbent Democrat Miguel P. Garcia, 5,679 to 2,033, or 74% to 26%.

The candidate took his case to three county commissioners and a state senator — some whose homes were targeted in the shooting — to no avail, Gallegos said.

“He had complaints about his election which he felt was rigged,” the spokesperson said. “As the mayor said, he was an election denier – he doesn’t want to accept the results of his election.”

One of those meetings with local and state leaders over his allegations got heated, he said.

“One of them actually led to quite a fight, I believe,” Gallegos said. “It was shortly after the shootings took place.”

State Senator Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, shows bullet holes in her garage door Jan. 5, 2023, after her home was shot down last month.Adolphe Pierre/Albuquerque Journal via Alamy

Pena was a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who claimed voter fraud during his defeat in the 2020 election, a baseless claim. The suspect was photographed during his campaign last year wearing a red “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt with a stitched gold signature of the former president.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the attacks as the product of political extremism.

“This radicalism is a threat to our city, our state and our nation,” he said. tweeted Monday. “We will continue to fight hate in all its forms and end political violence.”

Pena was with another suspect in a vehicle involved in the latest in the series of shootings, and a weapon recovered from that vehicle after it was pulled over about 40 minutes later was linked to the attack, police said.

Two other shootings previously believed to be linked to the case have so far not been linked to the suspect, police said at the news conference.

On January 9, police announced the arrest of another suspect in the case and said they had taken possession of a firearm believed to have been used in one of the shootings. On Monday, police said four more people were involved, with further charges and arrests to come. The status of the Jan. 9 suspect was unclear.

But on Monday, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina described Pena as the initiator of the shooting.

“We think he’s the mastermind behind it all,” he said at Monday’s press conference.

Pena was arrested Monday by a SWAT team in the Albuquerque area, the chief said. Ballistic evidence from one of the shootings linked the case to the suspect, Medina said.

An incident unrelated to the arrest was a Jan. 5 report of shots being fired outside the downtown law offices of incoming state senator Moe Maestas, police said.

It was unclear whether the suspect had retained an attorney for the case. There was no response to a request sent through his campaign site. A company associated with Pena did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Albuquerque Journal describes the suspect as an unsuccessful candidate for New Mexico House District 14, which represents the South Valley of the Albuquerque area.

The publication reported during its campaign last year that Pena had a criminal record. He served nearly seven years in prison for burglary, he added.

The shootings included an incident on Dec. 4 when eight shots were fired toward the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa in southeast Albuquerque, police said.

Also in early December, the home of the new Speaker of the State House, Representative Javier Martinez, was reportedly the target of the same series of attacks. Police, however, did not describe the incident as one related to the arrest.

Other shootings originally linked to the attacks include a Dec. 10 incident at the former campaign office of Raúl Torrez, New Mexico’s newly elected attorney general; a Dec. 11 incident that included more than a dozen shots that hit the home of former County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley; and a Jan. 3 report of eight shots fired toward the home of New Mexico Senator Linda Lopez.

Pena is described in a campaign email as a California native who completed high school in New Mexico, became a member of the US Navy Hospital Corps stationed in Okinawa, Japan, owns a business and graduated. a degree in political science from the University of New Mexico in 2021.

On his campaign website, Pena promises a more secure future for the state. “I will fight to provide opportunities for the next generation, keep the local economy open, and stop those who wish New Mexicans harm – in any way,” he said.

Andrew Blankstein, Linda Takahashi and Lindsey Pipia contributed.

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