Failed state GOP candidate visited 3 Democratic officials’ homes before allegedly targeting them in shootings, police say | CNN
A Republican former candidate for New Mexico’s legislature arrested on suspicion of orchestrating four recent shootings at Democratic leaders’ homes had visited at least three of those officials’ homes to discuss election results, Albuquerque Police said.
Solomon Peña, who lost a 2022 run for state House District 14, is accused of paying and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners.
According to police:
• Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa’s home was shot at multiple times on December 4.
• Incoming state House Speaker Javier Martinez’s home was shot at on December 8.
• Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s home was shot at on December 11.
• State Sen. Linda Lopez’s home was shot at on January 3.
• Peña went to another commissioner’s home to discuss the election, but that commissioner “never reported any shots fired,” Albuquerque police said.
No one was injured in any of the shootings. Peña is also accused of trying to participate in at least one of the shootings himself, Albuquerque police said. He was arrested by a police SWAT team Monday.
The investigation found “these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said. He called Peña “an election denier.”
After losing the election, Peña approached a state senator and two county commissioners at their homes with paperwork claiming there was fraud involved in the elections, Albuquerque police said.
Peña was arrested on preliminary charges of felon in possession of a firearm; attempted aggravated battery with a deadly weapon; criminal solicitation; and four counts each of shooting at an occupied dwelling, shooting at or from a motor vehicle, and conspiracy, according to a warrant.
CNN has reached out to Peña’s campaign website for comment and has been unable to identify his attorney.
False and unfounded claims about election fraud have exploded nationwide in recent years and fueled anger and threats of violence against elected officials – even in local politics.
Barboa, the county commissioner whose home was shot at multiple times on December 4, told CNN about an “erratic” encounter with Peña before the shooting.
“He came to my house after the election and he’s an election denier. He weaponized those dangerous thoughts to threaten me and others, causing serious trauma,” Barboa told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday.
“He was saying that the elections were fake … I didn’t feel threatened at the time, but I did feel like he was erratic.”
Similarly, O’Malley – the former Bernalillo county commissioner – told police Peña was at her home just days before the December 11 shooting there, according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained from Albuquerque police.
“Debbie recalled that he was upset that he had not won the election for public office, even though Debbie O’Malley was not a contender,” the affidavit says.
Ring doorbell camera footage recorded at O’Malley’s previous residence and obtained by CNN shows Peña approaching the door and knocking, holding documents in his hands.
The current resident speaks to him through the camera’s speaker feature, telling him O’Malley no longer lives at that residence and directing him to her new home.
While no one was injured in any of the shootings, Peña “intended to (cause) serious injury or cause death to occupants inside their homes,” an arrest warrant affidavit reads.
“There is probable cause to believe that soon after his unsuccessful (political) campaign, he conspired … to commit these four shootings” at the officials’ homes, the affidavit states.
Firearm evidence, surveillance footage, witness accounts plus cell phone and electronic records helped officials connect five people to the alleged conspiracy, Albuquerque police Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock said Monday.
Peña was first connected to the January 3 shooting at Lopez’s home.
That day, Lopez “heard loud bangs but dismissed them as fireworks at the time,” she told police.
But her 10-year-old daughter woke up thinking a spider was crawling on her face and that there was sand in her bed. It turned out to be sheetrock dust that was blown onto the child’s face from a bullet passing through her bedroom, the affidavit says.
Police later found “12 impacts” at the state senator’s home and shell casings nearby, according to the affidavit.
About 40 minutes after the shooting, a deputy spotted a silver Nissan Maxima with “an improperly displayed license plate sticker” about four miles from Lopez’s home and made a traffic stop, the affidavit states.
The Nissan was registered to Peña – but it was driven by another man at the time who had a felony warrant out for his arrest, the affidavit states.
In the trunk, the deputy found a Glock handgun with a drum magazine and an AR pistol, police said. The handgun matched the shell casings from the lawmaker’s home, police said in a news release.
Investigators then connected Peña to the shootings at the other officials’ homes. On Monday, detectives served search warrants at Peña’s apartment and the home of two men allegedly paid by Peña, police said.
“After the election in November, Solomon Peña reached out and contracted someone for an amount of cash money to commit at least two of these shootings. The addresses of the shootings were communicated over phone,” Hartsock said Monday, citing the investigation.
“Within hours, in one case, the shooting took place at the lawmaker’s home.”
One of the conspirators initially told shooters “to aim above the windows to avoid striking anyone inside,” the affidavit reads, citing a confidential witness with knowledge of the alleged conspiracy.
But Peña eventually wanted the shooters to be “more aggressive” and “aim lower and shoot around 8 p.m. because occupants would more likely not be laying down,” the affidavit says, citing the confidential witness.
In the latest shooting, police found evidence “Peña himself went … and actually pulled the trigger on at least one of the firearms that was used,” Hartsock said. But an AR handgun he tried to use malfunctioned, and more than a dozen rounds were fired by another shooter, a police news release said.
Authorities are still investigating whether those suspected of carrying out the shootings were “even aware of who these targets were or if they were just conducting shootings,” Hartsock said.
Peña, who lost the election to Democratic state Rep. Miguel Garcia 26% to 74% – had publicly alleged that the race was rigged, his Twitter account shows.
“Trump just announced for 2024. I stand with him. I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now researching my options,” Peña tweeted November 15 after losing his race.
On January 2, in response to someone who asked him if his election was rigged, Peña tweeted: “Si, mine was also rigged. And I will fight it until the day I die.”
The most recent time Peña tweeted that he did not lose the election was on January 9, when he posted “When we finally defeat the rigged NM elections, oh, the hero I will be! MAGA nation 4ever!”
Keller, the Democratic mayor of Albuquerque, called Peña a “right-wing radical” and a “dangerous criminal.”
“This type of radicalism is a threat to our nation and has made its way to our doorstep right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but we will continue will push back against hate,” Keller said in a statement.
“Differences of opinion are fundamental to democracy, but disagreements should never lead to violence.”
In addition to making unsupported claims about election results, Peña replied to several Twitter users who mentioned his criminal history and time spent in prison.
During the fall campaign, Peña’s opponent, Garcia, sued to have Peña removed from the ballot, arguing Peña’s status as an ex-felon should prevent him from being able to run for public office in the state, CNN affiliate KOAT reported.
Peña served almost years in prison after a 2008 conviction for stealing a large volume of goods in a “smash and grab scheme,” the KOAT report said.
A district court judge ruled Peña was allowed to run in the election, KOAT reported.
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