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Judge releases man charged with battery at ABQ protest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A man who faces several battery charges stemming from a protest in Albuquerque earlier this month has been released on his own recognizance.

Steven Baca, 31 (MDC)

Second Judicial District Judge Charles Brown released Steven Ray Baca, 31, Monday morning. Brown said he believed Baca posed a danger to the community, but also said that there were conditions of release that could keep the community safe. Baca is required to report to Pretrial Services, cannot possess firearms and cannot go to any protests while the charges are pending.

“I’m going to find that the defendant may be a danger to the community,” Brown said. “However, the state completely fails on the second prong of the analysis as to whether or not there are any conditions which would reasonably protect the community.”

Baca is charged with one count of aggravated battery, a felony, for reportedly grabbing a woman and throwing her to the ground at a protest June 15 during which there was an effort to remove a statue of Juan de Oñate from outside the Albuquerque Museum. The woman has still not been identified. He also faces two counts of misdemeanor battery and one misdemeanor count of unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon.

Originally, Baca was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for allegedly shooting 39-year-old Scott Williams, but the charge was dropped because District Attorney Raúl Torrez had concerns with the way the Albuquerque Police Department handled the investigation. Torrez said Baca could still be charged in the shooting.

“Today Judge Charles Brown released Steven Baca back into the community despite the fact that his unlawful possession of a loaded firearm and his violent assaults on three women were all captured on video,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Adolfo Mendez said in a written statement. “Despite ruling that Baca was a danger to the community, Judge Brown nevertheless ruled that he could be supervised in the community. We continue to believe that Baca is a threat to public safety and reserve the right to revisit the possibility of his detention as new witnesses and evidence become available in this ongoing investigation.”

Baca’s attorney, Jason Bowles, has maintained that Baca acted in self defense after protesters attacked him with skateboards and knives. He also said Monday that there is no evidence that Baca committed felony battery.

“Judge Brown is a very experienced judge and widely known to be as fair as the day is long, and known for closely following the law,” Bowles said in an email. “Under the bail reform laws in New Mexico, it was absolutely the right decision to release Mr. Baca on conditions imposed by the Court. We look forward to the District Attorney’s Office’s full and fair investigation, and believe strongly that the facts will show that this is a case of self defense.”

Laura Schauer Ives, an attorney representing Williams, said in a statement that it “is inexcusable that the district attorney has not yet charged Mr. Baca with shooting Mr. Williams,” adding that the DA has all the evidence he needs to do so. She called Baca dangerous and said he should not be out of custody.

Deputy District Attorney John Duran and Bowles appeared in court via a teleconference system. Both men were hard to hear from the courtroom gallery.

Duran played a video that was compiled from several videos of the protest that were posted on social media. Brown watched the video from the bench, but it could not be seen by people sitting in the gallery.

“We do believe that his intention in going to this protest was purposely to start trouble,” Duran said.

Brown said he had to ignore the final seconds of the video that capture the shooting because that charge isn’t pending.

“It doesn’t actually show the defendant doing anything,” Brown said of the video.

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