ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — A 31-year-old man has been arrested and charged with aggravated battery in a shooting that happened as protesters in New Mexico’s largest city tried to tear down a bronze statue of a Spanish conquistador outside the Albuquerque Museum, police said Tuesday.
Vigilantes might have started the violence that led to the shooting during Monday night's demonstration, authorities indicated, and the governor vowed to hold the "instigators" fully accountable.
Police identified the man charged in the shooting as a former Albuquerque city council candidate, Steven Ray Baca. According to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC affiliate KOAT, cell phone video shows a man in a blue shirt identified as Baca shooting several rounds from a semi-automatic handgun.
The wounded man, Scott Williams, was listed in critical but stable condition, said Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
A confrontation had erupted between protesters and a group of armed militia men who were trying to protect the statue of Juan de Oñate before protesters wrapped a chain around it and began tugging on it while chanting: “Tear it down.”
Moments later, a few gunshots could be heard down the street and people started yelling that someone had been shot.
Gallegos said police used tear gas and flash bangs to protect the officers who intervened and detained those in a right-wing militia group who may have been involved in the shooting. He said they were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning as police worked to secure the scene. He said detectives were investigating with the help of the FBI.
The militia group, known as the New Mexico Civil Guard, took to social media on Tuesday to say that Baca was not a member of their group and maintained they were "not involved in the shooting."
Nonetheless, Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Grier said in a statement Tuesday that police were looking into whether the group possibly instigated the shooting.
“If this is true, (we) will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution,” the chief added.
"I am horrified and disgusted beyond words," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement condemning the "heavily armed individuals who flaunted themselves at the protest, calling themselves a 'civil guard.' "
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) also asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the shooting.
"This is not the first report of heavily armed civilian militias appearing at protests around New Mexico in recent weeks. These extremists cannot be allowed to silence peaceful protests or inflict violence."
The city of Albuquerque on Tuesday removed the statue at the center of the controversy, which remained intact, until officials could determine next steps.
The violence Monday night came just hours after activists in northern New Mexico celebrated the removal of another likeness of Oñate that was on public display at a cultural center in the community of Alcalde. Rio Arriba County officials removed it to safeguard it from possible damage and to avoid civil unrest ahead of a scheduled protest.
Last week, another statue of him outside of El Paso International Airport was vandalized.
All of this comes amid a new wave of criticism of these statues as an affront to indigenous people and an obstacle to greater racial harmony.
Someone’s been shot. Multiple people calling 911. Chaos. pic.twitter.com/jxNjIvYJuf— Megan Abundis (@meganrabundis) June 16, 2020