Voter fraud conspiracies behind plot to shoot at homes of New Mexico Democrats, police say

The arrest of a defeated candidate for the New Mexico legislature on charges of orchestrating a plot to shoot up the homes of four Democratic officials in Albuquerque drew widespread condemnation Tuesday, as well as accusations that stolen election rhetoric among supporters of the former president Donald Trump continues to incite violence.

After Monday’s arrest, new details emerged Tuesday about the alleged conspiracy, including how close a burst of bullets came to the sleeping 10-year-old daughter of a state senator. Albuquerque police said in charging documents released Tuesday that Solomon Pena, 39, who lost a state House seat in November by a nearly 2-1 margin but complained his defeat was rigged , hatched the plot. The police accused him of conspiring with four accomplices to drive past the houses of officials and shoot them.

Peña “provided firearms and cash payments and personally participated in at least one shooting,” the documents say. They alleged that he intended to cause “serious injury or death” to people inside their homes, according to the documents. The group allegedly stole at least two cars used in the incidents, police said.

One of the targets of the attack said the shootings were part of a lineage of violence stemming from Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and including the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

“You think it wouldn’t happen here, that someone would do this to local officials,” said former Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, whose home was shot up on Dec. 11. “There’s been this narrative for a long time: if you don’t get your way, it’s okay to be violent. The message came from above. It came from Trump.”

According to charging documents, the most recent incident occurred Jan. 3, when at least a dozen rounds were fired at the Albuquerque home of state Sen. Linda Lopez (D).

Lopez told police that she initially thought the loud banging she heard just after midnight was fireworks. But in the middle of the night, her 10-year-old daughter woke up thinking that a spider had crawled across her face and she wondered why her bed felt like it was full of sand.

At dawn, López noticed holes in the house that made her suspect gunshots. After realizing it was the drywall dust from the bullet holes that had woken her daughter, she called authorities, according to charging documents. The documents also allege that Peña personally participated in the shooting of López because he was upset that previous shootings had aimed “so high up the walls.”

Pena brought an automatic rifle to Lopez’s home, but it jammed during the incident and he did not fire, according to the documents.

Police accused Peña of orchestrating similar attacks in December against the Albuquerque homes of New Mexico State Representative Javier Martinez, Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, and O’Malley, who was also a county commissioner at the time. county. They did not say if the shots at those houses came close to injuring anyone. Lopez, Martinez and Barboa could not be reached for comment.

Before running for office, Peña served nearly seven years in prison for convictions related to a burglary scheme that included robbery, theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In an interview, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he has no doubt Peña was motivated by Trump’s false claims of voter fraud following the former president’s defeat in 2020. Medina said Peña often expressed extreme views in on social media and bragged about attending Trump’s Stop the Steal rally in Washington on January 6, 2021.

“The individual we accused believed in that conspiracy,” Medina said. “He believed his choice was unfair and he escalated and resorted to violence as a means to find justice.”

Medina said federal police are also investigating possible federal firearms violations related to the shootings, as well as whether Pena was involved in the January 6 riots. An FBI spokesman said the agency is assisting local authorities in their investigation and declined to comment further.

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung called it “appalling that some people are using this tragedy to try to score cheap political points. President Trump had nothing to do with this and any claim to the contrary is totally reprehensible.”

Lawyers for Peña and two of his alleged accomplices, Demitrio Trujillo and José Trujillo, could not be reached for comment.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (D) said Pena visited the homes of the four targets in the days before the attacks, trying to persuade them that their election result had been rigged. “What is absolutely disturbing and terrifying is that he went from that to literally hiring criminals who had warrants to shoot up their houses,” Keller said. “That’s the leap he made in a matter of days.”

Keller said it’s unclear why Pena didn’t target his opponent, Democratic state Rep. Miguel Garcia. He said police have collected an overwhelming amount of evidence, including casings found at crime scenes and in recovered stolen vehicles, as well as texted instructions, including addresses of targets, from Peña to his alleged accomplices.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, an outspoken critic of threatening rhetoric from election deniers and the target of frequent attacks online, called on Republicans to condemn the violence in Albuquerque and urged voters to reject candidates. that they don’t.

He cited the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, as well as the most recent attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as other troubling recent examples of political violence.

“It’s horrible,” Griswold said. “There are so many people who have to look over their shoulders living in fear in an environment of political violence. As a nation, we are lucky that the bullets did not hit.”

Some Republicans joined the condemnations. Ryan Lane, the Republican leader of the New Mexico House of Representatives, praised law enforcement for their swift investigation of him. “Republicans in the New Mexico House of Representatives condemn violence in any form and are grateful that no one was hurt,” Lane said.

The New Mexico Republican Party issued a statement Tuesday night that did not mention Peña’s candidacy or his denial of the election results, but said the allegations against him “are serious, and he should be held accountable if the charges they are validated in court.”

The incident also sparked a new push for gun control. In Santa Fe, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) called for an assault weapons ban in a speech to the state legislature on the first day of its 2023 session. “Today there are elected officials in this room whose houses were shot in despicable acts of political violence,” he said.

Pena allegedly conspired with four other men, according to charging documents, hatching a plan to steal cars to use during the attacks and then abandon them. Subsequent investigations of stolen vehicles found with matching casings appear to confirm that plan, police said.

Police said they examined the cell phone of one of the alleged accomplices, Demitrio Trujillo, and discovered that Peña had sent him the addresses of the targets and that Trujillo had then looked up the addresses on his phone.

Peña began organizing the shootings shortly after the election, according to the police report. On November 12, he texted Barboa’s address to Trujillo. A week and a half later, Peña sent Trujillo a text message with a passage from an unknown book.

“It was only the additional incentive of a threat of civil war that empowered a president to complete the reformist project,” the text said.

On December 8, Peña sent the address of Martínez, whose house was attacked that night, and that of O’Malley. The texts between Peña and Trujillo contained plans to meet in parking lots, stores and fast food restaurants, according to the police report.

The charging documents also recount the recollections of an anonymous confidential informant who said Pena was not happy that the shootings were taking place late at night, when they were less likely to hurt anyone.

“Solomon wanted the shooting to be more aggressive” and “wanted them to aim lower and fire around 8 p.m. because the occupants were most likely not in bed,” according to the documents.

According to the documents, José Trujillo was arrested less than an hour after the shooting of López and only a few miles away, after he was pulled over for an expired registration in a Nissan Máxima registered to Peña. In addition to two guns found in the trunk, police found 800 pills believed to be counterfeit oxycodone, as well as cash. The police also discovered that Trujillo had a warrant for his arrest.

Police said Pena paid his accomplices at least $500 for their papers.

O’Malley told The Washington Post that Peña visited his home on November 10, days after he lost the election.

“He was agitated, aggressive and upset that he didn’t win,” O’Malley said. Peña told O’Malley that he had knocked on many doors in his district, which should have led to him winning more votes. She refused her request to sign a document claiming the election was fraudulent, so she left.

A week later, on December 11, a loud bang — “like a fist hitting our front door,” she said — woke her and her husband up. There were four more explosions. “Oh my God, gunshots,” she recalled thinking.

No one was hurt, but 12 shots were fired at his house. O’Malley said that because his grandchildren often stay over, he now worries what might have happened if they had been there. He said he, too, is concerned about what the attacks mean for democracy.

“Someone has threatened my house and they feel it is okay to shoot at my house where my family is because they didn’t get away with it,” he said. “I absolutely blame election denialism and Trump. I couldn’t tell you what the solution is.

Devlin Barrett, Isaac Arnsdorf, and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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