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Failed GOP Candidate and ‘Election Denier’ Accused of Firing on Homes of New Mexico Democrats

Solomon Pena, wearing a blue T-shirt, khaki cargo pants, and an unzipped jacket, is flanked by two police officers wearing tactical vests over their clothes.

Solomon Pena, center, a Republican candidate for New Mexico House District 14, is taken into custody by Albuquerque Police officers, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in southwest Albuquerque, N.M. Pena was arrested in connection with a recent series of drive-by shootings targeting Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

Police in New Mexico say that a failed Republican political candidate and “election denier” was the “mastermind” behind an alleged plot to shoot the homes of four local lawmakers in December and January, and — when the attacks he paid for weren’t causing enough damage — allegedly carried out at least one of the shootings himself, using an automatic rifle.

Solomon Peña, 39, was arrested and taken into custody on Monday, the Albuquerque Police Department announced. He’s facing several charges in what officials are saying is a wide-ranging conspiracy in which Peña is accused of enlisting four people to open fire on the homes of state and local officials who he apparently believed were engaging in election fraud.

“Solomon Peña unsuccessfully ran for the NM House of Representatives in November 2022,” an affidavit for Peña’s arrest said. “There is probable cause to believe that soon after this unsuccessful campaign, he conspired with [four people] to commit these four shootings at elected local and state government officials’ homes. Solomon provided firearms and cash payments and personally participated in at least one shooting. Solomon intended to serious injury or cause death to occupants inside their homes.”

Peña, who ran as a Republican in 2022 and lost to Democrat Michael Garcia, has denied the validity of the 2022 election and, according to his own Twitter account, appears to be a supporter of former President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly promoted unsupported conspiracy theories about election fraud since losing to Joe Biden in 2020.

“APD essentially discovered what we had all feared and what we had suspected: that these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat, said at a press conference Monday. “That has basically been confirmed by the investigation.”

Chief of Police Harold Medina said Monday that it is believed that Peña “was the mastermind that was behind this and was organizing this.”

Police have identified José Trujillo as one of the alleged conspirators, but have not named anyone else. Two of the alleged shooters are supposedly brothers. The affidavit also reveals the use of a confidential informant who police have described as being “inside the conspiracy.”

Peña is believed to have targeted the homes of four area officials: Adriann Barboa, then the chair of the Bernalillo County Board; State Rep. Javier Martinez, a Democrat and majority leader; Debbie O’Malley, a Democratic Bernalillo County commissioner; and State Sen. Linda Lopez, a Democrat. The attacks took place between Dec. 4, 2022, and Jan. 3.

Lopez, the target of the last attack, said that her daughter was sleeping when the house came under fire.

“During this time, Linda’s ten year old daughter told her mother that she believed a spider woke her up by crawling on her face,” the affidavit said. “Linda went to sleep with her daughter in her bed. While in bed, Linda’s daughter asked why it felt like there was sand in the bed. A few hours later (at daylight), Linda Lopez noticed that there were holes in her house, apparently from gunfire.”

“As it turned out, sheetrock dust was blown onto Linda’s daughter’s face and bed resulting from firearm projectile(s) passing inside her bedroom overhead,” the affidavit added.

The affidavit said that video of the attack on Lopez’s house indicated that a “modified fully automatic weapon” was used.

The confidential informant told police that Trujillo “instructed the two shooters to aim above the windows to avoid striking anyone inside.” Pena, however, wanted more, according to police.

“CW1 stated that Solomon was unhappy that the past impacts were so high up on the walls [of the dwellings],” the affidavit said. “CW1 stated that Solomon further expressed discontent that the shootings were late at night. CW1 stated that Solomon wanted the shootings to be more aggressive. CW1 stated that Solomon wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8PM because occupants would more likely not be laying down.”

Solomon’s instructions, the informant reportedly said, “made the other participants uneasy since they knew that doing so would more likely end in death or injury,” the affidavit said. Solomon allegedly “participated in the Lopez shooting to ensure better target acquisition.” During the shooting, the affidavit said, Pena’s “AR jammed and did not fire correctly,” but a Glock rifle used by another alleged shooter was working.

Pena is far from the first election denier from New Mexico to be accused of taking drastic action to block election results. Couy Griffin, a former county commissioner and the founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” was convicted in March of a trespassing misdemeanor for entering the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, when scores of Donald Trump supporters swarmed the building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden‘s 2020 electoral win. U.S. Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, convicted Griffin of the single charge following a bench trial, in which he also acquitted him of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

At a bench trial the next month, McFadden acquitted Matthew Martin, who called Jan. 6 a “magical day,” of misdemeanor charges for entering the Capitol. McFadden found that Martin could have “reasonably believed” that police officers had essentially let him into the building.

According to police records, Pena is currently in custody. He’s facing a total of 15 charges: four each of shooting at an occupied dwelling, shooting from a motor vehicle, and conspiracy to commit a felony, and a single count each of unlawful criminal solicitation, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and felon in possession of a firearm.

According to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, Pena is due to appear in court Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

Read the probable cause affidavit, via Albuquerque police, here.

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