Former Republican candidate accused of organising shootings at politicians’ homes

Shots fired at one New Mexico state senator's home passed through the bedroom of 10-year-old girl

Solomon Pena is taken into custody by Albuquerque Police officers. AP
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A failed Republican candidate, who authorities said was angry over his defeat and made baseless claims the election last November was “rigged” against him, has been arrested in connection with a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico’s largest city.

Solomon Pena was arrested on Monday evening, hours after Swat officers took him into custody and served search warrants at his home, police said.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina described Mr Pena as the “mastermind” of what he said appears to be a politically motivated conspiracy leading to shootings at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators between early December and early January.

No one was injured in the shootings but in one case, three bullets passed through the bedroom of a state senator’s 10-year-old daughter.

Mr Pena ran unsuccessfully in November against incumbent state Representative Miguel Garcia, the long-time Democrat representing House District 14 in the South Valley.

After the election, police said, Mr Pena showed up uninvited at the elected officials’ homes with what he claimed were documents proving he had won his race. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022.

“This type of radicalism is a threat to our nation and has made its way to our doorstep right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Mayor Tim Keller said. “But I know we are going to push back, and we will not allow this to cross the threshold.”

Four men conspired with Mr Pena, who is accused of paying them cash to carry out at least two of the drive-by shootings in stolen vehicles, while Mr Pena “pulled the trigger” during one of the crimes, Deputy Police Commander Kyle Hartsock said.

Solomon Pena was arrested in connection with a recent series of drive-by shootings at Democratic lawmakers' homes in New Mexico. AP

Detectives identified Mr Pena as their key suspect using a combination of mobile phone and vehicle records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected at the lawmakers’ homes, police said. His arrest came one week after Mr Medina announced they had identified a suspect in the shootings.

No one was injured in the shootings, which unfolded amid a rise in threats to members of Congress, school board members, election officials and other government workers across the nation.

The shootings began on December 4, when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, state Representative Javier Martinez’s home was attacked, followed by a December 11 shooting at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. More than a dozen rounds were fired at her home, police said.

The final related shooting at state Senator Linda Lopez’s home unfolded late on January 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired and Ms Lopez said three of the bullets passed through her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

Senator Linda Lopez shows bullet holes in her garage door after her Westside home was shot at on Thursday January 5. AP

Investigators received a break in the case after technology that can detect the sound of gunfire led an officer to Ms Lopez’s neighbourhood shortly after the shots were fired.

A criminal complaint outlining the exact charges against the former political candidate was expected to be released in the coming days. Additional arrests and charges were also expected, but police declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.

The New Mexico Republican Party condemned Mr Pena in a statement Monday night.

“If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” it said.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 8:19 PM