Relatives and friends of Jacob Johns huddle and cheer outside the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla. Johns was unable to come to the preliminary examination and pretrial detention hearing because he is fighting for his life at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
TIERRA AMARILLA — A man drove more than an hour from his home in the foothills near Albuquerque to Española where he provoked a crowd gathered around a contested public monument, shot someone, assaulted someone else and fled back south until he was stopped by tribal police.
Ryan Martinez, 23, will stay in the Rio Arriba County Detention Center until he goes to trial, where a jury could decide if he is guilty of trying to murder Jacob Johns and assaulting Malaya Peixinho on Sept. 28 outside a county government building next door to the sheriff’s office in the Northern New Mexico community.
Across nearly five-and-a-half hours of sworn testimony on Friday, witnesses convinced First Judicial District Court Judge Jason Lidyard of clear and convincing evidence Martinez is dangerous. They said he made racist comments to children, tried to provoke negative reactions from various people, and told a sheriff’s deputy to “fuck off.”
The judge watched closely as Martinez was shown on county surveillance footage, carrying a concealed 9mm handgun, repeatedly trying to rush into an area where around 50 people were peacefully celebrating county officials’ decision to postpone resurrecting a statue of genocidal Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate
A group of eight people, including Johns, prevented Martinez from reaching elders and children gathered just outside the doors leading to the county commission chambers. The group made no show of force against Martinez, the judge said.
“Given his conduct … not only the incident before the court, but the behavior at his home, and in his residential neighborhood and on the internet, there are no conditions of release capable of ensuring the safety of the community if he were to be released,” Lidyard said.
County officials had taken down the statue, originally located in Alcalde, N.M., during the nationwide uprising of 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd. This year they built a concrete pedestal in Española where they planned to replace it, until two of the county’s three commissioners said they didn’t want to go through with it.
Lidyard said it’s reasonable to infer Martinez was well aware he was creating a sense of provocation when he repeatedly tried to reach the pedestal “knowing it would provoke those who disagree with him.”
The judge said as a result of his actions, and as “any reasonable person would anticipate,” a confrontation occurred, he pulled his gun and shot “another human being standing in a crowd.”
“It’s concerning behavior, to say the least,” the judge said. “It is certainly violent in its nature, and the circumstances seem to be created by Mr. Martinez.”
Nicole Moss, Martinez’s private defense attorney, said he had been at the event for a while that day, spoke with some of the people there, introduced himself, shook hands with Peixinho and asked for someone to take his photo.
“That is not somebody who is willfully and deliberately planning to kill someone,” Moss said. “To the contrary, those are the actions of somebody who has no plans on committing any crimes, whatsoever.”
Moss said instead, he wanted to reach the pedestal so badly because he wanted “one more photo” with it.
While Lidyard made factual findings on Friday, he did not rule on Martinez’s intentions, nor any self-defense claims he may bring up at trial. Those were not at issue during Friday’s hearing and should be left for a jury to decide, he said.
‘Odd behavior’ months before shooting
New Mexico State Police Agent Shane Faulkner testified he interviewed Martinez’s neighbor, who told him he had been on high alert because of a series of burglaries nearby.
The neighbor told Faulkner he saw Martinez a few months before the shooting, walking around at night in their gated residential neighborhood in Sandia Park wearing body armor and carrying an AR-15 rifle and a handgun.
Martinez’s father confronted the neighbor the next day, Faulkner said, asking if he “had any problems” with him. In the conversation, the neighbor told Faulkner Martinez’s dad agreed that his behavior was odd.
“He looked at his son and said, ‘You can do that stuff in the mountains,’” Martinez’s father allegedly said.
Parents were present for FBI interview
FBI Special Agent William Walton testified Martinez’s parents were present when the FBI interviewed him about his 2018 posts on social media suggesting a violent attack on the country’s central banking system. The FBI cautioned him about making threats in the future.
“That admonishment doesn’t seem to have taken hold,” Lidyard said. “Mr. Martinez’s statements in these posts indicate an individual who believes that violence — specifically gun violence — is an appropriate response to a differing opinion.”
Walton testified the FBI didn’t find any further evidence of violent statements on his social media. Source NM found many hundreds more of his statements showing his extensive history of posting and engaging with extremist content.
More guns found in Tesla, bedroom
Martinez came from his home in his white Tesla, and tried to use it to flee the scene.
Malaya’s father Mateo Peixinho chased him in his work truck until Pueblo of Pojoaque Police officer Joseph Talachy pulled Martinez over and confiscated the handgun in his waistband, a bullet still in the chamber. Martinez’s car was sealed and impounded at the State Police office in Española.
A week later, Faulkner, the State Police agent, testified when he searched the car, he found a second handgun with a full magazine in the center console.
New Mexico State Police Agent Brandon Gregory testified when police searched Martinez’s home in Sandia Park, they found in his bedroom an AR-15 rifle modified to be fully automatic, meaning able to shoot an entire magazine with one long trigger pull.
They also found in his bedroom a 3D printer, 3D-printed parts of an AR-15 rifle, and 3D-printed “switches” that allow a semi-automatic weapon to be converted into a fully automatic one.
“In light of what happened in the circumstances of this case, it’s concerning as to the danger that may be presented by his release,” Lidyard said.
Moss suggested he be put on house arrest and be forced to wear a GPS monitor, and his parents could have been “third-party monitors.”
State prosecutors Emily Dewhurst and Norman Wheeler said the guns found in Martinez’s home make it an inappropriate place for him to be monitored. Moss said Martinez’s parents had removed the guns and alcohol in the home.
Judge sets aside risk assessment tool
The defense attorney highlighted a report based on a risk assessment which recommended releasing Martinez because he scored in the lowest category for future risk of missing a court date or causing further harm to the community.
Before the shooting, Martinez’s only criminal history was some traffic tickets. Moss said he lived with his parents in a gated community in Sandia Park, which is a relatively wealthy community in N.M. She said the family later moved to a “large piece of property.”
Lidyard said these kinds of risk assessments don’t necessarily determine judges’ rulings.
“The assessment does not take into consideration the culture of gun violence that our society is currently experiencing,” Lidyard said. “Nor does it consider the growing belief, among some individuals, that violence is an answer to conflict and disagreement, which Mr. Martinez exemplified in his public posts.”
‘I wish he understood’
Peixinho testified when she saw Johns hit the ground after he was shot, she froze. Then when she saw Martinez point the gun at her, she ran to her left, and another community member pulled her behind cover.
“The first thing I did was pray for Ryan Martinez,” Peixinho testified.
Johns’ mother Laverne McGrath and supporters wept and embraced in relief outside the courthouse after the judge’s rulings.
“This man is not safe out in society,” McGrath said of Martinez. “My son was there saying, ‘He’s young, I wish he understood. I wish it was different. It’s sad. I’m sad.’”
If not for Johns’ actions, more people could have been harmed or killed, said Janene Yazzie, Southwest Regional Director of NDN Collective.
“If Jacob hadn’t interposed himself, there could have been a mass shooting on September 28,” Yazzie said.
Wheeler said prosecutors intend to file enhancements to the existing charges, along with a new misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told the Santa Fe Reporter she intends those to include a hate crime enhancement.
“Targeting a community with violence is a hate crime,” Yazzie said. “If they can do it to us, they can do it to any community and any peaceful assembly. … Minimizing or normalizing a hate crime diminishes all of us — makes all of us unsafe — by not prioritizing or valuing our humanity.”
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