Former city council candidate arrested following shooting at New Mexico protest

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June 17 (UPI) -- Police in Albuquerque have arrested a former city council candidate accused of shooting a man when protests against a controversial statue turned violent as demonstrators and an armed militia clashed, officials said.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that the suspect, 31-year-old Steven Ray Baca, had been "agitating" at the protest against a statue of a Spanish conquistador and that he had "violently" thrown a woman to the ground before being pursued by protesters.

Video of the incident posted online shows protesters attempting to stop the individual from leaving the scene when he allegedly opened fire.

One person was "seriously injured" due to the shooting, police chief Mike Geier said.

The shooting followed a peaceful protest during the day that then moved to the statue where a smaller group of demonstrators attempted to tear it down but were confronted by an armed group called the New Mexico Civil Guard. It is unclear if Baca was a member of the malitia.

Keller said armed groups have been "interfering" with peaceful protests nationwide and Albuquerque was no exception.

"These groups are often at protests, and they have been for quite some time attempting to prop up white supremacy, trying to intimate those who speaking out and they are armed with weapons," he said.

Following the shooting, some 20 guns were detained from four people, Geier said.

Geier blamed the violence Monday night on those who attempted to interfere in the protest.

"The continued involvement of agitators, whether it is a single individual or a group of vigilantes, resulted in this violence," he said in condemnation.

The investigation is ongoing and the district attorney's office will decide if there will be additional charges, he said.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham denounced the armed anti-protests as being the cause of the violence.

"To menace protester, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force. To menace the people of New Mexico with weaponry -- with an implicit threat of violence -- is on its face unacceptable; that violence did indeed occur is unspeakable," she said in a strongly worded statement.

Those "instigators" behind the violence "will be rooted out" investigated and held accountable, she said.

"There is absolutely no space in New Mexico for any violence would-be 'militia' seeking to terrorize New Mexicans," she said.

Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico senator, called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting.

"This is not the first report of heavily armed civilian militias appearing at protests around New Mexico in recent weeks," he tweeted. "These extremists cannot be allowed to silence peaceful protests or inflict violence."

Keller said the statue of Juan de Onate at the center of the shooting was to be removed as it now posed a risk to public safety.

The protest was held as demonstrators throughout the country call for the removal of controversial statues and monuments amid protests against inequality and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed late last month while in police custody.

Baca, who is the son of a retired Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy, had campaigned to be on the city council in 2019 but lost in the six-way race, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

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