Man Charged With Shooting Protester After Scuffle Over Statue In Albuquerque

Screenshot/ Megan Abundis
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June 16, 2020 10:57 a.m.

A man was shot Monday at a protest against a controversial monument in New Mexico.

The alleged shooter and several others, including members of an armed New Mexico-based group, were taken into custody at the scene. A few hours after the incident, the Albuquerque Police Department said the shooting victim was in “critical but stable condition.”

“We are receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating this violence,” Police chief Michael Geier said in a statement early Tuesday morning. “If this is true will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution.”

The shooting followed scuffles near a monument that includes a statue of New Mexico’s brutal colonial-era governor, Juan de Oñate. It’s not clear which group Geier was talking about.

Steven Baca was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for the shooting, according to a criminal complaint posted by New Mexico Political Report’s Andy Lyman.

The complaint alleged that an undercover detective saw a crowd that “appeared to maliciously pursue Steven,” with several people striking him and one person pulling him to the ground. At that point, “a series of gunshots are heard,” according to the complaint, and video shows Baca holding a gun.

Baca’s shooting victim is alleged in the complaint to have struck him with a longboard just prior to the shooting.

Alburquerque Mayor Tim Keller said following the shooting that as a matter of public safety, “the City will be removing the statue until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps.”

Just prior to the shooting, protesters were attempting to remove the statue when members of an armed group, New Mexico Civil Guard, stepped in an attempted to protect it, Albuquerue Journal reported. Video taken by a witness shows a man in a blue shirt shoving several protesters.

Though the precise sequence of events isn’t yet clear, video from the scene subsequently showed a man wielding a gun being followed by protesters, one of whom appeared to throw him to the ground. At that point, gunshots rang out.

After the shooting, “New Mexico Civil Guard” members stepped between the protesters and the shooter, who sat on the ground, as others in the protest group attended to the man who was shot.

The shooter didn’t appear to have ties to the New Mexico Civil Guard group, KOB4’s Megan Abundis reported. But, she added, “it was clear he was not happy with the protesters.”

Police later used tear gas and flash bangs to clear the crowd, according to local reports and a department spokesperson.

In a statement, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was horrified by the reports of violence at the protest.

“The heavily armed individuals who flaunted themselves at the protest, calling themselves a ‘civil guard,’ were there for one reason: To menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force,” Lujan Grisham said. “To menace the people of New Mexico with weaponry — with an implicit threat of violence — is on its face unacceptable; that violence did indeed occur is unspeakable.”

Violence is wrong “no matter who strikes first,” the governor added, vowing to root out “the instigators this evening.”

The FBI is assisting with the investigation, an Albuquerque police spokesperson told the Albuquerque Journal. On Twitter, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-MN) called for a Justice Department investigation.

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