Former GOP candidate faces federal charges for shootings of homes of prominent Dems

A federal grand jury indicted the man and two alleged co-conspirators who allegedly shot at prominent Albuquerque Democrats’ homes in late 2022 this week. Former Republican state house candidate Solomon Peña and alleged co-conspirators Demetrio Trujillo and Jose Louise Trujillo were charged on counts including conspiracy, interference with federally protected activities and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, possessing a firearm in furtherance of such crime and aiding and abetting in all but the conspiracy count. U.S. District Judge Kea W. Riggs unsealed the federal court documents on May 31. In 2022, Peña ran for the state House District 14 seat against incumbent Democrat Miguel Garcia. Garcia won the race with 74 percent of the vote to Peña’s 26 percent.

A deadly cry for help

by Vanessa G. Sánchez and Joshua Bowling, Searchlight New Mexico 

Collin Neztsosie was no stranger to the Albuquerque Police Department. Its officers had transported him to the ER on numerous occasions when he was in the throes of a mental health crisis. He was listed in the department’s database as a person with acute psychiatric needs; in January 2022, APD assigned a specially-trained crisis intervention officer to regularly check in on him. 

That same officer had promised Neztsosie that police would be there whenever he heard voices in his head, family members said. “The cops told him if you have any trouble, any issues, you feel suicidal, you want to hurt somebody, you want to hurt yourself, call 911,” his sister, Natasha Neztsosie, recounted. 

That promise went up in smoke on March 19, 2022, when the 33-year-old Navajo father of two — in the midst of another mental health crisis — was shot and killed by Albuquerque police. It happened just a few blocks from his sister’s apartment in the city’s Singing Arrow neighborhood. 

“They just shot my brother right in the head,” said Natasha, sitting on a couch surrounded by portraits her brother painted for her.

Peña sent to pre-trial detention in case of shooting at politicians’ houses

The former Republican candidate who allegedly masterminded the shooting of four houses of Democrats  was ordered to remain in pre-trial detention during a hearing in Second Judicial District Court on Monday. Judge Brett Loveless granted prosecutors’ motion to keep Solomon Peña, 39, in pre-trial detention for a charge of receipt, transportation or possession of a firearm or destructive device by certain persons. Peña remains incarcerated at Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque. The charge is among 15 charges against Peña in the case of four drive-by shootings at Democratic politician’s homes in December and January. Peña was charged on four counts each of shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, shooting at or from a motor vehicle and conspiracy to shoot at a dwelling or occupied building.

APD investigating alleged political shooting mastermind’s campaign finances

Albuquerque Police detectives found what they think may be illegally obtained campaign contributions while investigating Solomon Peña and the shootings he allegedly masterminded. “APD detectives learned through witness interviews related to the shooting investigation that Peña identified individuals to funnel contributions from an unknown source to his legislative campaign,” an APD news release states. “Detectives are working with other law enforcement agencies to determine whether the money for the campaign contributions was generated from narcotics trafficking and whether campaign laws were violated.”

Campaign finances are regulated under the Campaign Reporting Act, or CRA, which is under the State Ethics Commission’s purview. “Presently, our office is reviewing the matter for CRA violations,” State Ethics Commission spokeswoman Suha Musa said via email. “If the Commission takes action in this matter, it will do so at a public meeting.”

The Campaign Reporting Act dictates how campaign funding can be used.

State Rep. Javier Martinez addresses the media prior to being named Speaker of the House on Jan. 17, 2023.

Speaker Martinez comments on shooting of his house

Speaker of the House Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, opened up about the recent shootings of houses owned by Democratic politicians in Albuquerque, including his own. Martinez held a press briefing prior to the opening of the legislative session on Tuesday. “It’s long overdue, that we lower the temperature,” Martinez said. “These are the things that can happen when rhetoric gets out of hand. I am incredibly grateful to the Albuquerque Police Department, to (Albuquerque) Mayor (Tim) Keller and to all of those who played a role in protecting our safety and ensuring that our democracy remains intact.”

Martinez expressed alarm that the shootings occurred.

Former Republican legislative candidate arrested over shootings targeting Democratic politicians’ houses

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina announced Monday evening, on the eve of the 2022 legislative session, that police arrested a former Republican candidate for office in relation to the shootings at the homes of Albuquerque Democrats. Albuquerque police say Solomon Peña, 39, conspired with and paid four other men to shoot at the homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two legislators. 

Peña ran for state House District 14 as a Republican in 2022, losing to incumbent Democrat Miguel Garcia. “This type of radicalism is a threat to our nation and has made its way to our doorstep here in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said at the press conference. Peña was arrested following a SWAT situation near downtown Albuquerque when he was served at his residence. “Earlier today, the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT team took Solomon Peña [into] custody in reference to the shootings and he is the mastermind that was behind this and organizing this,” Medina said at the news conference.

Legislative session security in the wake of shootings

The upcoming legislative session begins on Jan. 17, less than two weeks after news reports revealed a series of shootings involving Democratic leaders residing in Albuquerque. With the session beginning in less than a week, the New Mexico Political Report reached out to New Mexico State Police about security at the Roundhouse for the session. “New Mexico State Police has an operational plan in place for the 2023 legislative session, as we do for every session,” State Police spokesman Ray Wilson said via email. “We have assigned appropriate resources to ensure the safety of the public, senators, and representatives.”

The public are encouraged to voice their comments, questions and concerns in a peaceful manner; however, NMSP is prepared for any chaos that may erupt.

Suspect in custody in shootings of Democrats’ properties

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina announced Monday afternoon that a suspect is in custody regarding the recent shootings of Democrats’ homes and offices. 

“We do have a firearm in our possession that is linked to one of the shootings,” Medina said. “We are not going to get into details as this is still an active investigation.”

Medina declined to release the name of the person of interest, citing the investigation. The only information APD released about the person is that he is a male who is currently in custody on an unrelated charge. Law enforcement also have a firearm that may be connected to the shootings. “We never want this to happen,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said.

Another potential shooting at home of another ABQ Democrat

State Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, reported shots were fired at his home in December. Martinez is the likely incoming state House Speaker. Following last week’s reports of five high-ranking Albuquerque Democratic politicians’ homes or offices being shot at, Martinez looked over his home, an Albuquerque Police Department news release states. “He discovered damage presumably from gunfire heard in early December outside his Albuquerque home. APD detectives went to the home and located evidence of a shooting,” the news release states.

Police investigating after shots fired at Democratic politicians’ houses

In early December, two Bernalillo County Commissioners and a state senator’s homes were shot at. No injuries were reported. Another incident was reported Thursday at the off of a state senator. Albuquerque Police Department held a press conference Jan. 5 where Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Harold Medina spoke about the incidents and provided some information about the ongoing investigation.