ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A man protesting an Oñate statue remains hospitalized Tuesday night. The man who shot him, a former city council candidate, is in jail and charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
The City of Albuquerque said it is handing the case over to New Mexico State Police for an independent investigation. Mayor Tim Keller denounced Monday night’s violence while promising the strongest possible prosecution for those involved.
What police said started as a peaceful protest quickly turned violent. The protest was over the Juan De Oñate statue off Mountain in Old Town. Tensions quickly escalated between the protesters and a group of armed militiamen who identified themselves as the New Mexico Civil Guard. “They were moving in, harassing us and terrorizing us,” one protester said.
Meanwhile, tensions rose between the protesters and 31-year-old Steven Baca Jr. Police said they are investigating if he is connected to the Civil Guard.
Video shows Baca yank a woman to the ground. That is when the crowd starts after him. One man hit him with a longboard. Baca shot off some pepper spray while running away.
Police said after another man picked up the longboard to hit Baca again, Baca shot four rounds at the man. Militia members surrounded Baca, protecting him from the crowd until police arrived and arrested Baca.
The Albuquerque Police Department said they got there within minutes after Baca fired, later using smoke, pepper spray and rubber bullets to control the crowd. Protesters want to know why police did not respond sooner, like when protesters used a chain to try to bring down the statue and people were shoving each other.
“We called police,” one protester said. “30 people called police asking for help even 30 minutes before this happened and no cops came onto the scene.”
The city said the timeline and police response will be reviewed by the police oversight board. “Every time we respond to something like this, we do our best to learn and improve upon situations,” APD commander Art Sanchez said. Police recovered 20 guns and 34 magazines from the scene. Police said they arrested at least five people.
Mayor Keller said under the state constitution, they cannot regulate weapons at protests. He called on the legislature to make an amendment to see that changed.
The District Attorney’s Office said it wants to speak to any other witnesses from the scene as additional charges and arrests are possible. The FBI is also involved in the investigation.