Failed GOP candidate for NM House charged in connection to shootings at Dem politicians’ homes

Police accuse Solomon Pena with orchestrating attacks in December and January after refusing to concede his race in the 2022 election

By: - January 17, 2023 2:16 pm
Solomon Pena, a former Republican Party candidate for an NM House seat, has been charged in connection to shootings at Democratic politicians' homes in Albuquerque.

Solomon Peña, a 2022 Republican candidate for an N.M. House seat, has been charged in connection to shootings at Democratic politicians’ homes in Albuquerque. (Photo from his official campaign Twitter feed in mid-November)

A traffic stop in early January led police to 893 fentanyl pills, two firearms and the arrest of a man wanted on a misdemeanor stalking charge. Albuquerque police say it also helped lead them to 39-year-old Solomon Pena, a 2022 Republican candidate for the New Mexico House who police suspect is the architect of a plan to shoot at the homes of several elected Democratic officials.

The afternoon of Jan. 3, a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy stopped a car driven by 21-year-old Jose L. Trujillo in Albuquerque’s South Valley. The reason for the stop, according to a sworn affidavit filed in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, was that the silver Nissan Maxima did not have a current registration sticker on its license plate. Though driven by Trujillo, the vehicle was registered to Pena.

The Glock 17 police said they found in the trunk of a vehicle driven by Jose L. Trujillo but registered to former Republican House candidate Solomon Pena. (Image from the criminal complaint filed in Bernallio County Metropolitan Court)

Police soon learned that Trujillo had an active warrant for his arrest, and as deputies searched the vehicle, they found the pills, believed to be counterfeit oxycodone made using fentanyl, according to the affidavit. In the trunk of the car, police said they located an AR-15 pistol and a Glock 17 with a drum-style magazine.

Trujillo was charged with a felony count of trafficking controlled substances and booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center. But according to the affidavit, police suspected that Pena and Trujillo were involved in the shootings at the homes of Democratic politicians, and the drum-style magazine on the Glock further piqued their suspicions.

The traffic stop came less than an hour after a reported shooting at the home of state Rep. Linda Lopez less than 5 miles away.

Police said the drum magazine in the handgun “can often indicate that a switch, which converts a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon, is installed,” and officers suspected that a fully automatic weapon was used during the shooting at Lopez’s home. Investigators later determined that bullet casings recovered near Lopez’s home had been fired from the same Glock pistol found during the traffic stop.

Following a Dec. 16 shooting at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, police spoke with O’Malley, who said Pena had been at her home a day or two earlier and that he was “upset that he had not won the election,” the affidavit stated.

Other shootings being investigated are a Dec. 4 report of gunfire at the home of Commissioner Adriann Barboa, where ShotSpotter technology detected eight shots fired. Barboa told CNN Pena had also come to her home speaking erratically about fake elections. (Commissioners certify the results of an election.)

On Dec. 8, state Rep. Javier Martínez’s home was struck by multiple bullets.

Following the arrest of Trujillo, police obtained a search warrant for his cellphone. Data from the phone showed that Pena sent Trujillo the address of Commissioner Barboa, and that Trujillo had searched the address using Apple Maps. Pena also sent Trujillo the addresses to the homes of Martínez, O’Malley and Lopez.

Police allege several text messages between the two men also include coded language and a reference to “collecting intel.” The two also exchanged photos, including a photo of the Glock pistol with the drum magazine, and a photo of Trujillo eating at a table with several handguns displayed in front of him.

Pena was arrested following a SWAT standoff Monday afternoon near 14th and Coal in Downtown Albuquerque. He faces 14 felonies and one misdemeanor.

Pena is charged with one count of receipt, transportation or possession of a firearm by a felon; four counts of shooting at dwelling or occupied building; four counts of conspiracy to shoot at a dwelling or occupied building; four counts of shooting at or from a motor vehicle; and one count of criminal solicitation to shoot at a dwelling or occupied building. He is also charged with a misdemeanor count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Shots were also fired at the campaign office of newly elected Attorney General Raúl Torrez in December, and at the  law office of Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas in January. Police have not accused Pena or Trujillo of being involved in these shootings.

Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said that at least five people were involved in a conspiracy to shoot at the homes of Democratic leaders in Albuquerque during a news conference on Monday, Jan. 17, 2023.
Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said during a news conference on Monday, Jan. 17, 2023, that at least five people were involved in a conspiracy to shoot at the homes of Democratic leaders in Albuquerque. (Screenshot via APD)

The inside man

During a Monday news conference, Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said that at least five people were involved in the “conspiracy” to shoot at the homes of Democratic leaders, and that at least one of those people is cooperating with investigators.

Hartsock said Pena recruited at least one other person and offered cash to help him carry out the shootings at politicians’ homes. Police believe Pena pulled the trigger in at least one shooting, he said.

The sworn affidavit filed Tuesday details the information investigators have obtained from that source. He told police that Pena had employed several people to carry out the shootings, and that they were directed to “aim above the windows to avoid striking anyone inside,” according to the affidavit. He said that after the initial shootings were carried out, Pena “expressed discontent that the shootings were late at night,” and that he’d wanted the shootings to “be more aggressive.”

The unsuccessful candidate

Pena sought election to represent House District 14 as a Republican last year, but lost to Democrat Miguel Garcia in a 74% to 26% landslide. D14 includes some of southern Albuquerque and the South Valley.

Early on in the race, Garcia filed a court challenge to disqualify Pena because of his 2008 felony conviction for stealing many items from big-box retail stores in a “smash and grab” scheme.

Pena served nearly seven years in prison for the conviction.

A judge ruled that a state law barring felons from holding office unless they are pardoned by the governor was unconstitutional, so Pena remained on the ballot.

An apparent Trump supporter and election denier on his social media feed, Pena never conceded his own electoral loss last year, contending that the system was rigged.

Throughout his campaign for D14, one of Pena’s top financial contributors was Jose Trujillo, campaign finance reports show.

Trujillo, whose occupation is listed as “cashier,” made several donations throughout the primary election totaling $5,100. The donations were made on six separate occasions, often just days apart. Trujillo made only one $55 donation during the general election.

Jay Block, a commissioner in Sandoval County who ran as a 2022 gubernatorial candidate but lost in the Republican primary, donated $104.10 to Pena in September, according to campaign finance records.


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Ryan Lowery
Ryan Lowery

Ryan Lowery is an award-winning independent journalist based in Albuquerque. He covers politics and criminal justice and has reported on New Mexico for the Las Vegas Optic, Santa Fe Reporter, Los Angeles Times and others. Lowery was awarded the 2020 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, and the 2021 Sunshine Award from the New Mexico Press Association for his reporting that highlighted lack of transparency from multiple government agencies.