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Suspect In Shooting At Albuquerque Statue Demonstration Faces New Charges

Workers for the city of Albuquerque, N.M., remove a sculpture of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate on Tuesday. A man was shot a day earlier as an armed militia group attempted to defend the statue from protesters.
Paul Ratje
AFP via Getty Images
Workers for the city of Albuquerque, N.M., remove a sculpture of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate on Tuesday. A man was shot a day earlier as an armed militia group attempted to defend the statue from protesters.

Updated 11:39 p.m. ET

The Bernalillo County District Attorney's office dropped shooting charges against the 31-year-old New Mexico man who allegedly seriously wounded a protester in Albuquerque on Monday.

Steven Ray Baca was initially arrested and charged with a single count of aggravated battery — a third-degree felony — and use of a firearm in a felony, following a violent clash with protesters trying to topple a conquistador statue that also drew armed vigilantes to protect it.

But on Wednesday, District Attorney Raul Torrez said further investigation into the events leading up to the shooting prompted his office to amend the charges against Baca.

"I want to be very clear about our decision at this point," he said, adding that the investigation is ongoing and could result in additional charges against the onetime candidate for Albuquerque City Council and son of a former sheriff.

For now the only charge related to the shooting is one count of unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon.

"Records indicate that Mr. Baca did not have a lawful concealed carry permit," Torrez said in a press conference.

The Investigation Changes Hands

Separate from the shooting, the district attorney said video of the scene showed Baca struck and injured three female protesters and that he would face three charges of battery.

Torrez also announced the Albuquerque Police Department agreed to hand over the investigation to New Mexico State Police at the request of the district attorney's office.

"I specifically noted the presence of undercover officers who were referenced in the original complaint filed by [the Albuquerque Police Department] and the fact that while those officers are now key witnesses, they did not intervene and act to enforce the specific laws or prevent the shooting," Torrez said.

He added, "More troubling, from our perspective, is the fact that after police and APD arrived at the scene, because of the dynamic situation and the tense situation that developed ... there were tactics that were used by the Albuquerque PD that made it impossible for key witnesses to the event to actually make statements."

Vigil turns into violent confrontation

The shooting occurred during a protest Monday calling for the removal of a bronze statue depicting Juan de Oñate, a Spanish colonial governor who founded settlements in the region.

Following a planned vigil, some people tried to pull the statue down with a chain yoke, and at least one person swung at the its base with a pickax.

Torrez cited multiple videosthat appear to show Baca allegedly assaulting the women during the protest before the shooting occurred, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Baca then allegedly pepper-sprayed people pursuing him, the Journal reported. At least one of them hit him with a longboard.

Baca then allegedly shot a gun multiple times.

Police said a man named Scott Williams was hit several times in the torso and hospitalized.

The Journal reported that Baca was seen speaking to members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed militia group that came to protect the monument. The militia has denied is a member of the group.

Police were investigating any possible connections Baca may have to the group.

At least four members of the Civil Guard were taken into custody, along with Baca, according to KUNM.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said city officials on Tuesday ultimately removed the bronze statue depicting Juan de Oñate "until the appropriate civic institutions can determine [the] next steps."

Mayor calls for hate group designations

On Tuesday, Keller said that the city was working with federal authorities to push for armed right-wing organizations — such as the Civil Guard — to be designated ashate groups.

"Across the nation, we know that there have been outside groups interfering with peaceful protests, and sadly we are not exempt from this right here in Albuquerque," Keller said during anupdate on the shooting.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the armed group was there "to menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force."

A man identified as belonging to the New Mexico Civil Guard told KOB4that Baca was not part of the group. He said the militia protected Baca from protesters after the shooting.

Another statue of Oñate, who arrived in 1598 in what is now New Mexico, was taken down in Alcalde, north of Albuquerque, hours before Monday's shooting. Officials there removed the statue to avoid protesters removing it themselves, The Associated Press reported.

Oñate is revered among some residents who trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers but also detested for his vicious treatment of Native Americans.

Baca made an unsuccessful bid last year for the Albuquerque City Council, losing in a six-way race, according to Ballotpedia.

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Jason Slotkin
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.