ALBUQUERQUE, NM (TBEN) — A failed Republican candidate who authorities say was angry about his defeat and made baseless claims that last November’s election had been “rigged” against him was arrested in connection with a series of drive-by shootings targeting on the homes of Democratic legislators in New Mexico’s largest city.
Solomon Pena, 39, was arrested Monday evening just hours after SWAT officers took him into custody and issued search warrants, police said.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina described Pena as the “mastermind” of what he says appears to be a politically motivated conspiracy that led to shootings at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators between early December and early January.
No one was injured in the shootings, but in one case, three bullets passed through the bedroom of a senator’s 10-year-old daughter.
Pena unsuccessfully ran against incumbent state Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, the longtime Democrat who represented House District 14 in the South Valley. Garcia won by 48 percentage points, or about 3,600 votes.
After the election, police said, Pena showed up uninvited at elected officials’ homes with what he said 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 talks.
“This kind of radicalism is a threat to our nation and has found its way to our front door here in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “But I know we will push back, and we will not allow this step over 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 chief said Kyle Hartsock.
Detectives identified Pena as their prime suspect using a combination of cell phone and vehicle data, witness interviews and bullet casings collected from lawmakers’ homes, police said. His arrest came a week after Medina announced they had identified a suspect in the shooting.
A lawyer for Pena who was able to comment on the allegations was not listed in prison records Monday evening.
No one was injured in the shootings, which came amid an increase in threats to members of Congress, school administrators, election officials and other government employees across the country. In Albuquerque, law enforcement is struggling to deal with years of record homicides and ongoing gun violence.
The shootings began on December 4, when eight bullets were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, the home of State Representative Javier Martinez was targeted, followed by a December 11 shooting at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. According to police, more than a dozen shots were fired at her home.
The latest related shooting, targeting Senator Linda Lopez’s home, occurred 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 daughter’s bedroom.
Investigators got a break in the case after technology that can detect the sound of gunfire led an officer to Lopez’s neighborhood shortly after the shots were fired.
The officer found shell casings matching a gun found later that morning in a Nissan Maxima registered to Pena. At around 1:30 a.m., about an hour after the shooting at Lopez’s home, police stopped the Nissan about 4 miles from the legislature’s neighborhood.
The driver, identified 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 indictment detailing the exact charges against the former political candidate was expected to be released in the coming days. More arrests and charges were also expected, but police declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Detectives were also investigating two additional shootings they initially believed were related to the Pena case: one near New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez’s former campaign office and another in Senator Senator’s office. Antonio Mastas. Police said on Monday that the shootings appear to be unrelated.
The New Mexico Republican Party condemned Pena in a statement Monday night. “If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”