Albuquerque police on Monday arrested the man they say is the “mastermind” behind a recent string of shootings targeting Democratic lawmakers’ homes.
The suspect, Solomon Pena, is a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for office in November, has made repeated claims that the election was rigged and appears to have attended the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in Washington, D.C.
Around 3 p.m. APD’s SWAT team swarmed a condominium complex near the ABQ BioPark Zoo to execute a search warrant. They made announcements for Pena — who they said may be armed with a firearm — to surrender as drones flew overhead.
Within an hour officers had arrested Pena, who is accused of paying four men to shoot at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators, Police Chief Harold Medina announced Monday evening. Investigators also believe Pena was present for at least one of the shootings.
One of the four men Pena is accused of hiring, Jose Trujillo, is being prosecuted federally on drug trafficking and firearm charges but the names of the other suspects were not immediately released.
Pena ran unsuccessfully in the House District 14 race and claimed on social media he should have won the election. He also visited three of the targeted officials’ homes unannounced in November complaining the election was fraudulent and should not be certified.
“APD essentially discovered what we had all feared and what we had suspected — that these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Mayor Tim Keller said at a news conference. “They were dangerous attacks not only to these individuals … but, fundamentally, also to democracy.”
Both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and the House Republican Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, issued statements applauding law enforcement and condemning violence.
“There is no place in our society or our democracy for violence against any elected official or their families, and I trust the justice system will hold those responsible for such attacks to full and fair account,” Lujan Grisham said.
Lane said the New Mexico House Republicans are grateful no one was injured in the shootings and referenced Pena’s criminal past — which had been a controversial issue during the campaign.
“This is yet another example of a convicted felon unlawfully gaining access to firearms, which they are barred from owning or possessing, and using the weapon in a manner that causes public harm,” Lane said.
In early January APD disclosed that it was investigating several shootings targeting Democratic elected officials’ homes around the city.
They said Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa’s Southeast Albuquerque home had been struck by eight bullets on Dec. 4 and a week later, on Dec. 11, more than 12 bullets hit County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s North Valley home.
On Jan. 3, shots rang out at state Rep. Linda Lopez’s home in Southwest Albuquerque and three bullets went through her daughter’s bedroom as the 10-year-old slept.
After news of the investigation began to circulate, state Rep. Javier Martínez — the current nominee for House speaker and the representative for District 11 in Southwest Albuquerque — inspected his home and noticed it too had sustained damage from bullets. He had heard gunfire outside his home on Dec. 8 and believes that’s when the shooting occurred.
Police also investigated gunshots fired near the campaign office for Raúl Torrez as he ran for state Attorney General and near the office of State Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, but a department spokesman said Monday detectives don’t have any evidence linking Pena and his alleged accomplices to those shootings at this time.
The break in the case came after the shooting at Lopez’s home.
More than a dozen shots were fired after midnight on Jan. 3, and police received a ShotSpotter notification.
Medina said responding officers found shell casings, but didn’t immediately see any damage.
The state senator who represents District 11 later reported that a bullet struck the ceiling of her daughter’s room. She had awoken to gunfire and felt material falling from the ceiling.
Then, 40 minutes after the shooting, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies pulled over 21-year-old Trujillo, who was driving a Nissan Maxima registered to Pena.
Deputies arrested Trujillo on an unrelated warrant, and during an inventory of the car found 800 fentanyl pills and two guns, a Glock handgun with a drum magazine and an AR pistol.
The shell casings found outside Lopez’s home were tested at APD’s crime lab, and they matched the confiscated weapons, police said.
APD acting Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock with the Investigative Enhancement Division said detectives have electronic and cellphone records, surveillance footage and witnesses “inside and outside of this conspiracy that have helped us weave together what occurred.”
“The persons doing the shootings — we are still investigating if they were even aware of who these targets were, or if they were just conducting shootings,” Hartsock said.
He said Pena was at the shooting at Lopez’s home and fired at least one of the guns.
Hartsock said the case is still being investigated and additional charges are likely to be filed against other people.
Pena’s candidacy came under scrutiny over the summer when his opponent, Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, filed a court challenge to disqualify him because he had been convicted in 2008 of stealing large amounts of goods from several big box retail stores in a reported “smash and grab” scheme.
Pena served nearly seven years in prison.
In September, 2nd Judicial District Judge Joshua Allison ruled that a state law barring felons from holding office unless they are pardoned by the governor is unconstitutional so Pena remained on the ballot.
Less than two months later Pena lost the November election by more than 3,600 votes — garnering 2,033 votes to Garcia’s 5,679.
However, in frequent postings on Twitter, Pena maintained that he didn’t lose and that the election was rigged.
On Nov. 15 Pena posted a photo of himself wearing a red “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt that appeared to have been signed in gold by Donald Trump and said “Trump just announced for 2024. I stand with him. I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now researching my options.”
He also posted a photo of himself that appears to be from Washington, D.C., that he said was “one of the last pictures I have of the Jan 06 trip.”
In a reply to someone calling him a criminal on Dec. 28 on social media Pena said, “Everyone in the NM government who helped overthrow Trump are the active treasonists who must be placed in Guantanamo Bay Cuba for natural life. Once they are gone I can work on rebuilding Albuquerque.”
On Nov. 17, in response to a Tweet by the New Mexico Secretary of State warning against attempts to manipulate the election certification process, Pena replied “I will attempt to stop the certification in Bernalillo County, until a hand recount has been done. It was rigged!”
For Commissioners O’Malley and Barboa and Sen. Lopez, Pena was a familiar face. He had visited each of their homes, uninvited, in the days following the election.
On Nov. 18, O’Malley, Barboa, Charlene Pyskoty and Walt Benson voted 4-0 to certify the general election results. Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada missed the meeting.
O’Malley — whose term as commissioner has since ended — told the Journal on Monday that Pena showed up at her home wanting to talk about what he alleged was election fraud, telling her he believed he should have received more votes because he had knocked on many doors during his campaign.
“He gave me some papers and said ‘I want you to respond,'” she recalled.
She said the packet included what looked like Internet information about voter fraud and a letter.
She had no communication with him after that.
Pena was not hostile, O’Malley said, but the encounter was unsettling enough that she notified law enforcement.
“I thought it was odd, and he seemed a little anxious to me and a little, kind of aggressive, and that kind of put me on alert,” she said.
BCSO personnel checked on her house but did not see anything, and O’Malley did not think about the incident much until someone shot at her house a month later.
Police said Pena also has a black Audi sedan registered under his name, which matches the description of the vehicle he drove to O’Malley’s house in November.
Barboa said she had a similar encounter when Pena showed up on her doorstep asking her not to vote to certify the election results.
“I know our addresses are public, but I was a little thrown off because it’s not usual that people come to our door,” she said.
Barboa said they spoke and he handed her paperwork similar to what others who are questioning elections have given her and other officials during county commission meetings
The commissioner said she grew worried for Pena during the encounter as she thought he was making illogical claims about the results of his own race.
“He was just sort of all over the place — the things he was putting together weren’t quite connecting or fitting,” she said. “You can’t say because you knocked on a thousand doors, you know you got a thousand votes.”
She said Monday she was pleased that police were able to make an arrest and quell some of her family’s fear. Her daughter, she said, has been too afraid to bring her child over since the shooting.
“I’m hoping today that this is done that my daughter can bring my grandbaby here again,” Barboa said, while choking back tears.
She said the ordeal will change the way she lives and that she is going to pursue new security strategies for herself and her family.
Plus, Barboa said, it’s distressing that elected officials are now going to take steps to shield themselves from the public — noting that the New Mexico Legislature has already removed some lawmaker contact information from its website in response.
“All of that is going to change because of this and that breaks my heart as someone who believes the public needs access to our elected officials,” she said.