A Republican former candidate for New Mexico’s legislature who police say claimed election fraud after his defeat has been arrested on suspicion of orchestrating recent shootings that damaged homes of Democratic elected leaders in the state, police said.
Solomon Peña, who lost his 2022 run for state House District 14, was arrested Monday by Albuquerque police, accused of paying and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners, authorities said.
“It is believed he is the mastermind” behind the shootings that happened in December and early January, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said in a news conference.
CNN has reached out to Peña’s campaign website for comment and has been unable to identify his attorney.
Before the shootings, Peña in November – after losing the election – had approached one of the legislators and some county commissioners at their homes, uninvited, with paperwork that he said indicated fraud was involved in the elections, police said.
An investigation confirmed “these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Monday.
“At the end of the day, this was about a right-wing radical, an election denier who was arrested today and someone who did the worst imaginable thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which is turn that to violence,” said Keller, a Democrat. “We know we don’t always agree with our elected officials, but that should never, ever lead to violence.”
The stewing of doubt about election veracity, principally among Republicans and usually without proof, has exploded nationwide since then-President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid and began propagating falsehoods the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The claims have stoked anger – and unapologetic threats of violence – against public officials down to the local level.
Peña will face charges related to four shootings: a December 4 incident at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa; a December 8 shooting at the home of incoming state House Speaker Javier Martinez; a December 11 shooting at the home of then-Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O’Malley; and a January 3 shooting at the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez, police said in a news release.
In the latest shooting, police found evidence “Peña himself went on this shooting and actually pulled the trigger on at least one of the firearms that was used,” Albuquerque police Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock said. But an AR handgun he tried to use malfunctioned, and more than a dozen rounds were fired by another shooter from a separate handgun, a police news release reads.
The department is still investigating whether those suspected of carrying out the shootings were “even aware of who these targets were or if they were just conducting shootings,” Hartsock added.
“Nobody was injured in the shootings, which resulted in damage to four homes,” an Albuquerque police news release said.
Barboa, whose home investigators say was the site of the first shooting, is grateful for an arrest in the case, she told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday.
“I’m relieved to hear that people won’t be targeted in this way by him any longer,” she said.
During the fall campaign, Peña’s opponent, Democratic state Rep. Miguel Garcia, sued to have Peña removed from the ballot, arguing Peña’s status as an ex-felon should prevent him from being able to run for public office in the state, CNN affiliate KOAT reported. Peña served nearly seven years in prison after a 2008 conviction for stealing a large volume of goods in a “smash and grab scheme,” the KOAT report said.
“You can’t hide from your own history,” Peña told the outlet in September. “I had nothing more than a desire to improve my lot in life.”
A district court judge ruled Peña was allowed to run in the election, according to KOAT. He lost his race to Garcia, 26% to 74%, yet a week later tweeted that he “never conceded” the race and was researching his options.
“After the election in November, Solomon Peña reached out and contracted someone for an amount of cash money to commit at least two of these shootings. The addresses of the shootings were communicated over phone,” Hartsock said Monday, citing the investigation. “Within hours, in one case, the shooting took place at the lawmaker’s home.”
Firearm evidence, surveillance video, cell phone and electronic records and witnesses in and around the conspiracy aided the investigation and helped officials connect five people to this conspiracy, Hartsock said.
Detectives served search warrants Monday at Peña’s apartment and the home of two men allegedly paid by Peña, police said in the news release, adding Peña did not speak with detectives.
Officers arrested Peña on suspicion of “helping orchestrate and participate in these four shootings, either at his request or he conducted them personally, himself,” Hartsock added.
Police last week announced they had a suspect in custody and had obtained a firearm connected to one of the shootings at the homes of elected officials. A car driven at one of the shooting scenes was registered to Peña, the department said.
Authorities had earlier said they were investigating two other reports of gunfire since December – near the campaign office of the state attorney general, and near a law office of a state senator. Detectives no longer believe those two incidents are connected to the other four, police said Monday.
O’Malley, the then-county commissioner whose home police say was shot at in December, is pleased an arrest has been made, she said.
“I am very relieved – and so is my family. I’m very appreciative of the work the police did,” O’Malley told CNN on Monday evening. O’Malley and her husband had been sleeping on December 11 when more than a dozen shots were fired at her home in Albuquerque, she said.
Barboa discovered the gunshots at her home after returning from Christmas shopping, she said.
“It was terrifying. My house had four shots through the front door and windows, where just hours before my grandbaby and I were playing in the living room,” Barboa said in a statement. “Processing this attack continues to be incredibly heavy, especially knowing that other women and people of color elected officials, with children and grandbabies, were targeted.”
Barboa was one of the commissioners that Peña approached uninvited after the election to claim the results were fraudulent, Barboa said.
“He came to my house after the election. … He was saying that the elections were fake … really speaking erratically. I didn’t feel threatened at the time, but I did feel like he was erratic,” Barboa told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday.
Martinez, the incoming state House speaker whose home also was shot at, is grateful a suspect is in custody, he told CNN in a statement. “We have seen far too much political violence lately and all of these events are powerful reminders that stirring up fear, heightening tensions, and stoking hatred can have devastating consequences,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Debbie O’Malley’s first name.