Albuquerque Statue Protest Shooting Suspect Steven Baca Has Charges Dropped

An Albuquerque man accused of shooting a protester has had the most serious charge against him dropped following concerns police mishandled the investigation.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez criticized the Albuquerque Police Department following the disorder while protesters attempted to topple the statue of Spanish conqueror Juan de Oñate outside the Albuquerque Museum on Monday night.

Violence broke out when demonstrators attempting to remove the statue known as La Jornada were met with members of armed right-wing militia group the New Mexico Civil Guard.

Steven Baca, 31, is accused of shooting the victim, named as 39-year-old Scott Williams, after clashing with demonstrators and being chased down the street. His attorney said he was attacking in self-defense at the time.

In a press conference, Torrez said that Baca has been charged with aggravated battery after video emerged of him throwing a woman wearing a camouflage coat to the ground.

He was also charged with battery in connection to footage of him confronting protesters at the statue and unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon as records show he does not have a concealed carry permit.

Torrez said prosecutors dropped an initial aggravated battery with a deadly weapon charge citing concerns that police failed to interview key witnesses or identify where several weapons such as knives which had been recovered from the scene had come from.

"We believe that fundamentally this is an incomplete police investigation," he said.

Torrez said preliminary reports have dismissed claims on social media that Williams himself was armed prior to being shot but will continue to review all possibilities. Video also emerged showing Baca being attacked with a skateboard by one of the protesters.

"There have been rumors on social media about what transpired in the final seconds before this and we are actively looking into those and whether or not this was justified," he said.

Torrez asked that the Albuquerque Police Department no longer be the lead agency investigating the shooting and the New Mexico State Police will be taking over.

"After police arrived at the scene, because of the dynamic and tense situation that developed between police officers, protests and counter protesters, there were tactics that were used by the Albuquerque Police Department that made it impossible for key witnesses to the event to actually make statements," Torrez said.

"I recognize that people in this community and in this country are on edge right now and they are deeply divided over a number of very important issues.

"Based on the feedback we have received in our office, it seems a great deal of the perspective of what happened at that shooting is driven by folks' ideological perspective.

"Frankly we have been put in a situation too many times in this community where investigations have been rushed, are incomplete, and there is an expectation that quick decisions are made. As professionals and prosecutors who have to uphold an oath to be objective and impartial, we can't do that. We have to get it right."

Torrez said Baca could again face the aggravated battery with a deadly weapon charge if the new investigation calls for it.

Following the shooting, several members of the New Mexico Civil Guard could be seen gathering around Baca to protect him from the crowd, but they deny that he is a member of the group.

"They secured the perimeter to help them keep the integrity of the investigation that was going to happen so that no evidence would be destroyed and because the mob was angry and yelling murderer and moving in," one member of the New Mexico Civil Guard, who did not wish to be armed, told KOB.

"And so we needed to keep them back from the suspect in a possible homicide investigation."

In a statement Baca's attorney Jason Bowles said: "With multiple assailants attacking him with weapons, Mr. Baca at that point had no choice but to defend himself using force.

"We believe that the district attorney's office should not file charges as this is very clearly an appropriate exercise of self defense."

Torrez said under New Mexico law you cannot claim self defense if you were the aggressor of the situation, but that "is not absolute" and they will be taking the conduct of others who were at the protest into consideration.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller confirmed Oñate's statue would be removed as an "urgent matter of public safety" following the shooting.

"The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city," Keller said in a statement. "Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us."

The Albuquerque Police Department has been contacted for comment.

Albuquerque
Workers for the City of Albuquerque remove a sculpture of Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate on June 16, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. -A man was shot on June 15 as a heavily armed militia group attempted to defend the statue from US protestors in New Mexico. PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty