Failed GOP candidate arrested on suspicion of orchestrating shootings at homes of Democrats in New Mexico, police say
By Jennifer Henderson, Andi Babineau and Jason Hanna, CNN
(CNN) -- A Republican former candidate for New Mexico's legislature who police say claimed election fraud after his defeat has been arrested on suspicion of orchestrating recent shootings that damaged homes of Democratic elected leaders in the state, police said.
Solomon Peña, who lost his 2022 run for state House District 14, was arrested Monday by Albuquerque police, accused of paying and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners in December and January -- and of trying to participate in at least one of the shootings, authorities said.
Though the shootings injured no one, Peña "intended to (cause) serious injury or cause death to occupants inside their homes," an arrest warrant affidavit obtained from Albuquerque police 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 reads.
Before the shootings, Peña -- after losing the election -- approached the county commissioners and at least one of the legislators at their homes, uninvited, to allege that the election results were fraudulent, police and officials said.
CNN has reached out to Peña's campaign website for comment and has been unable to identify his attorney.
An investigation confirmed "these shootings were indeed politically motivated," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Monday.
"At the end of the day, this was about a right-wing radical, an election denier who was arrested today and someone who did the worst imaginable thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which is turn that to violence," said Keller, a Democrat. "We know we don't always agree with our elected officials, but that should never, ever lead to violence."
The stewing of doubt about election veracity, principally among Republicans and usually without proof, has exploded nationwide since then-President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid and began propagating falsehoods the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The claims have stoked anger -- and unapologetic threats of violence -- against public officials down to the local level.
Gunshots were fired into the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa on December 4; incoming state House Speaker Javier Martinez on December 8; then-Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O'Malley on December 11; and state Sen. Linda Lopez on January 3, police said in a news release.
The department is 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," Albuquerque police Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock said Monday.
"Nobody was injured in the shootings, which resulted in damage to four homes," an Albuquerque police news release said.
Barboa, whose home investigators say was the site of the first shooting, is grateful for an arrest in the case, she told "CNN This Morning" on Tuesday.
"I'm relieved to hear that people won't be targeted in this way by him any longer," she 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.
"Charges are expected to be filed for the other men who participated in the shootings," the police news release reads.
Before shootings, Peña approached at least some of the officials, authorities say
During the fall campaign, Peña's opponent, Democratic state Rep. Miguel 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 nearly seven years in prison after a 2008 conviction for stealing a large volume of goods in a "smash and grab scheme," the KOAT report said.
"You can't hide from your own history," Peña told the outlet in September. "I had nothing more than a desire to improve my lot in life."
A district court judge ruled Peña was allowed to run in the election, according to KOAT. He lost his race to Garcia, 26% to 74%, yet a week later tweeted that he "never conceded" the race and was researching his options.
"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."
Firearm evidence, surveillance video, cell phone and electronic records and witnesses in and around the conspiracy aided the investigation and helped officials connect five people to this conspiracy, Hartsock said.
Peña tried to visit at least some of the officials before shooting at their homes.
He approached Barboa uninvited to claim the results were fraudulent, Barboa said.
"He came to my house after the election. ... He was saying that the elections were fake ... really speaking erratically. I didn't feel threatened at the time, but I did feel like he was erratic," Barboa told "CNN This Morning" on Tuesday.
About eight gunshots were fired at Barboa's house and a parked vehicle on the afternoon of December 4, police said. Barboa discovered the gunshots after returning from Christmas shopping, she said.
"My house had four shots through the front door and windows, where just hours before my grandbaby and I were playing in the living room," Barboa said in a statement. "Processing this attack continues to be incredibly heavy, especially knowing that other women and people of color elected officials, with children and grandbabies, were targeted."
In mid-December, O'Malley, the other county commissioner, called police to say the adobe fencing at her home had been damaged by gunfire. While police were investigating, O'Malley mentioned Peña had come to her home a day or two before the incident complaining about the recent election results, the affidavit reads.
"Debbie recalled that he was upset that he had not won the election for public office, even though (sic) Debbie O'Malley was not a contender," the affidavit reads.
Ring doorbell camera footage recorded at O'Malley's previous residence and obtained by CNN shows him 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.
Lopez, the state senator whose home was shot at on January 3, also told detectives that Peña had showed up uninvited at her home after the election.
"County commissioners and Sen. Lopez told detectives that Peña ... provided them with documents that he said indicated fraud in the election results," the police news release reads.
Unhappy with initial shootings, Peña wanted shooters to aim lower, affidavit reads
One of the conspirators initially instructed 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," the affidavit reads, citing the confidential witness.
Peña "wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8 p.m. because occupants would more likely not be laying down," the affidavit, citing the confidential witness, says.
Lopez told police she "heard loud bangs but dismissed them as fireworks at the time." Lopez's daughter was awakened, thinking a spider was crawling on her face and that it felt like sand was in her bed, Lopez told police.
Officers found "sheetrock dust was blown onto Linda's daughter's face and bed resulting from firearm projectile(s) passing inside her bedroom overhead," the affidavit reads. Officers found "12 impacts to (Lopez's) residence," according to the affidavit.
Shell casings at Lopez's home ended up matching a handgun that was confiscated from a silver Nissan Maxima that was halted in a traffic stop about 40 minutes after the shooting and about 4 miles from the residence, police said in their news release.
The Maxima was registered to Peña, though Peña was not driving it when it was stopped, police said.
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, the Albuquerque police deputy commander, said. But an AR handgun he tried to use malfunctioned, and more than a dozen rounds were fired by another shooter from a separate handgun, a police news release reads.
Detectives served search warrants Monday at Peña's apartment and the home of two men allegedly paid by Peña, police said in the news release, adding Peña did not speak with detectives.
Police last week announced they had a suspect in custody and had obtained a firearm connected to one of the shootings at the homes of elected officials.
Authorities had earlier said they were investigating two other reports of gunfire since December -- near the campaign office of the state attorney general, and near a law office of a state senator. Detectives no longer believe those two incidents are connected to the other four, police said Monday.
Commissioner: 'I am very relieved'
O'Malley, the then-county commissioner whose home police say was shot at in December, is pleased an arrest has been made, she said.
"I am very relieved -- and so is my family. I'm very appreciative of the work the police did," O'Malley told CNN on Monday evening. O'Malley and her husband had been sleeping when the shots were fired at her home in Albuquerque, she said.
Martinez, the incoming state House speaker whose home also was shot at, is grateful a suspect is in custody, he told CNN in a statement. "We have seen far too much political violence lately and all of these events are powerful reminders that stirring up fear, heightening tensions, and stoking hatred can have devastating consequences," he said.
In her state of the state address Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the shootings "despicable acts of political violence" and thanked law enforcement for working "quickly and tirelessly to apprehend every single suspect in these heinous attacks."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Debbie O'Malley's first name.
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