Police in Albuquerque, N.M. have arrested and charged a 31-year-old man over a shooting Monday during an attempt by protesters to topple a conquistador statue that also drew armed vigilantes to protect it. A protesters was seriously wounded during the confrontation.
Albuquerque Police arrested Steven Ray Baca and charged him with aggravated battery, as NPR member station KUNM reported.
Baca is a one-time candidate for city council and son of a former sheriff.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the bronze statue at the heart of the dispute, depicting Juan de Oñate, was ultimately removed by city officials on Tuesday “until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps.”
Vigil turns into violent confrontation
The shooting occurred during a protest Monday calling for the statue’s removal. Following a planned vigil, some people tried to pull it down and at least one person swung at the statue’s base with a pickax.
Several graphic videos posted online appear to show Baca attempting to get away from a crowd after violently throwing a woman to the ground. The woman hit her head as she lands. Baca then pepper-sprayed a group of people pursuing him, The Albuquerque Journal reported. At least one of them hit him with a longboard.
Baca then allegedly shot a gun multiple times.
Police said a man named Scott Williams was hit several times in the torso and hospitalized.
The Journal reported that Baca was seen speaking to members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed militia group who came to protect the monument. The militia has denied that he is a member of the group.
Police were investigating any possible connections Baca may have to the group.
At least four members of the Civil Guard were taken into custody along with Baca, according to KUNM.
Mayor calls for hate group designations
On Tuesday, Keller said that the city was working with federal authorities to push for armed right-wing organizations — such as the Civil Guard — designated as hate groups.
“Across the nation, we know that there have been outside groups interfering with peaceful protests and sadly we are not been exempt from this right here in Albuquerque,” Keller said during an update on the shooting.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the armed group was there “to menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force.”
A man identified as belonging to the New Mexico Civil Guard told KOB4 that Baca was not part of the group. He said the militia protected Baca from protesters after the shooting.
Another statue of Oñate, who arrived in 1598 in what is now New Mexico, was taken down north of Albuquerque in the city of Alcalde hours before Monday’s shooting. Officials there removed the statue to avoid protesters removing it themselves, The Associated Press reported.
Oñate is revered among some residents who trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers, but also detested for his vicious treatment of Native Americans.
Baca had an unsuccessful city council bid last year, losing a six-way race, according to Ballotopedia.