ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Police in Albuquerque were being criticized Tuesday for not stepping in sooner as a protest over a statue of a Spanish conquistador erupted in violence, leaving one man hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Police units that had been monitoring the protest moved in minutes after the shooting and used tear gas and rubber bullets as they took the suspect into custody and aided the man who was shot. But some witnesses say things started to escalate long before the shooting as protesters surrounded the statue and a group of armed men who were trying to protect it.
Protesters wrapped a chain around the statue of Juan de Oñate and began tugging on it while chanting: “Tear it down.” One protester swung a pickax at the base of the statue.
The shots were fired in the street nearby, and protesters scrambled after hearing the gunfire.
Stephen Ray Baca, 31, was arrested and jailed on suspicion of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Baca was once a candidate for the Albuquerque City Council and is the son of a former Bernalillo County sheriff.
Baca had been among those trying to protect the statue when protesters “appeared to maliciously pursue him,” according to a criminal complaint. Video posted on social media showed protesters hitting Baca with a skateboard, punching him and chasing him before he opened fire.
Mayor Tim Keller said during a news conference that Baca appeared to be “agitating at the protest well before this shooting took place." The mayor pointed to a video that showed Baca throwing a woman to the ground and said investigators were still interviewing witnesses, reviewing video and working on a full account of what happened. It wasn't clear what precipitated the interaction with Baca and the woman.
Keller said the investigation was being turned over to New Mexico State Police and the tactics used by police would be reviewed.