Ex-Republican hopeful arrested over shootings at Democrats’ homes

US police say Solomon Pena, 39, was ‘mastermind’ of politically motivated conspiracy that led to New Mexico shootings.

Solomon Pena wearing a red 'Make America Great Again' hoodie and a medium-sized Trump campaign flag hanging on the wall behind him.
Solomon Pena ran unsuccessfully in November against state Representative Miguel P Garcia [Twitter/@SolomonPena2022]

A failed Republican candidate who US authorities say was angry over his defeat and made baseless claims the election in November was “rigged” against him has been arrested in connection with a series of drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico.

Solomon Pena, 39, was arrested Monday evening, hours after officers took him into custody and served search warrants at his home, police said.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina described 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 from early December to 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.

Pena ran unsuccessfully in November against state Representative Miguel P Garcia, the longtime congressman for House District 14 in South Valley in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Garcia won by 48 percentage points, or roughly 3,600 votes.

After the election, police said, 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.

The shootings began shortly after those conversations.

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

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

Jail records available late on Monday didn’t list a lawyer for Pena who could be able to comment on the allegations against him.

The shootings unfolded as threats rise against members of the United States Congress, school board members, election officials and other government workers around the nation. In Albuquerque, law enforcement has struggled to address back-to-back years of record homicides and persistent gun violence.

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 targeted, 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 targeted state Senator Linda Lopez’s home. It unfolded in the midnight hour of January 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired, and Lopez said three of the bullets passed through her 10-year-old’s bedroom.

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

The officer found bullet casings matching a handgun found later that morning in a Nissan Maxima registered to Pena. About an hour after the shooting at Lopez’s home, police stopped the Nissan about 6km (4 miles) from the lawmaker’s neighbourhood.

The driver, identified on Monday night as Jose Trujillo, was arrested on an outstanding warrant, leading to the discovery of more than 800 fentanyl pills and two firearms in the car, police said.

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 also were expected, but police declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.

The New Mexico Republican Party condemned Pena in a statement, saying, “If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Source: The Associated Press