On June 15, a man was shot in Old Town over the “La Jornada” (The Journey) sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The shooting occurred during a protest for the removal of the figures of Juan de Onate de Salazar in the sculpture. There were 5 to 6 heavily armed New Mexico Civil Guard members, some dressed in military camouflage, present trying to “protect” the sculpture. It was reported that the shooting occurred when at least 3 of the protesters attacked a person who was walking away from them, he was struck in the head with a skateboard and the person attacked drew a gun, shot numerous times, with one shot hitting one of the protesters. The shot protester was rushed to the hospital and is listed in critical but stable condition. The shooting and violence resulted in the City taking down the single figure of Onate in the sculpture.
APD EXPLAINS HOW IT HANDLED THE PROTEST
On Monday, June 23, Albuquerque Police Department Deputy Chief Harold Medina and Lt. Joe Viers discussed APD’s response to the protest and shooting in front of the Albuquerque Museum in Old Town.
Lt. Joe Viers gave a detailed timeline of events. The events for APD started to unfold when incident command staff learned there would be a “peaceful prayer” gathering calling for the removal of the Oñate statue. According to Viers:
“There was no indication they would try to remove or tear down the statue and there was no indication of any anti-protesters or militia members trying to show up to instigate any events. ”
Viers went on to explain that around 5:20 p.m. the first call came into 911 about armed men at the protest. In one 911 call, a woman reported that armed men carrying assault style weapons were present but they were not pointing weapons at anyone. Under New Mexico Law, it is legal to carry a gun openly and the caller was told that by APD.
According to Lt. Viers:
“I did contact the tactical commander to form a quick response team. Basically their goal is to not be part of the demonstration or crowd control or anything like that. Basically since there was an armed individual introduced at this protest, at that time, we just needed to have a response team for medical care, as well as if there was a rescue that needed to take place.”
APD Incident Command ordered a mobile camera trailer across the street to monitor the gathering and events as APD compared the 911 calls coming in to what they could see from the feed to the Real Time Crime Center. Twenty three calls about the incident were made to 911. Eight of the calls occurred before the shooting and 4 of those referenced the armed men. One caller mentioned the men pointing guns at teenagers in the crowd, but APD said they didn’t have any evidence of that actually occurring other than the call.
Lt. Viers went on to explain that two Emergency Response Teams were staged at the Albuquerque Museum and the Old Town substation nearby. As a protest began to unfold, undercover APD detectives kept their distance and observed the events as they unfolded. Viers explained it this way:
“The undercover officers who were monitoring the crowd from a distance obviously did not convey any information that there was any threats of violence at that time. … There were no immediate threats of life and ERT (Emergency Response Team) was basically on standby if things were to escalate. … [The undercover detectives] were standing outside the protest and didn’t have a good visual on what was happening inside the crowd.”
According to Deputy Chief Medina, the “temperature of the group” would rise and then fall and he said:
“When the civil guard surrendered the statue you can clearly see through the photos and video it was a sense of victory for the protesters. … It kind of diffused the situation there. From them surrendering the statute and pulling away to the moment that shots were fired was literally minutes.”
According to the time line provided, at 8:04 p.m., shots were fired. Emergency Response Teams were deployed a minute later, arriving at 8:07 p.m. It was APD para medics who first rendered aid to the injured man and he was taken from the scene in an ambulance 8 minutes later.
Lt. Viers said APD still had members of the New Mexico Civilian Milita Guard detained at the scene while they waited for marked units to arrive and transport them: .
“We had the individuals who were being detained between those two vehicles to deal with and then we also had a crime scene to try to preserve as best we could until the investigators were able to come on scene and continue that investigation. … At 20:28 hours [8:28 p.m.], a small group of protesters refused to move to a safe distance from where the group of individuals were being detained so smoke was used to help disperse the crowd.”
According to Viers , protesters kicked the smoke canisters back and officers deployed seven “sponge rounds”. A few dozen protesters remained in the area but eventually dispersed around 9:30 p.m. In the hours that followed, crime scene investigators arrived to process the scene and search it to locate physical evidence and tag into evidence. The processing of the location continuing into the next morning.
VIDEO RELEASED, GUNS SEIZED
During the press conference, short clips of video were released by APD. The video released shows a line of officers, armed with batons, marching toward the protesters while another group wearing tactical gear dispatched out from an armored vehicle and they took several members of a civilian militia group into custody, also seizing their weaponry.
The videos released did not show any attempts by APD at investigating the shooting, whether by interviewing witnesses or combing the streets for evidence. Deputy Chief Medina explained that shots had been fired, the crowd was angry, and that made it very difficult to process the scene in the normal manner as done for serious crime. According to Medina, the decision was made that rather than interviewing the witnesses who remained on scene, many of whom were present immediately before and during the shooting, they asked the media to report that anyone with information about what happened to please contact APD.
During the press conference, Deputy Chief Medina explained it this way:
“We knew a lot of individuals when shots were fired … had left the area. There were others there that had gotten caught up in a clash with law enforcement so we knew that we weren’t going to have the witnesses that we typically do right away, and we knew that we didn’t have the luxury of securing the scene as usual.”
On June 16, the Albuquerque Police Department released a photo of the 13 guns and 34 magazines taken from militia members at the protest in front of the Albuquerque Museum Monday. In the APD photo are 4 semi-automatic rifles ostensibly seized from the citizen milita.
The day after the protest, APD was severely criticized and scrutinized over the decision not to send officers into the fray much sooner and failure to infiltrate the crowd. During the June 22 press conference, Deputy Chief Medina said after watching similar events unfold all across the country, APD has been mindful of the way officers respond to such protests knowing it will affect the department’s relationship with the community. Medina responded this way:
“The Albuquerque Police Department recognizes that our past approach to use of force caused the community to distrust and fear the police. … Throughout this time of dealing with protests we have been cautious to hold the use of force to a minimum and use only for significant property damage or when life is threatened. We simply will not allow simple property crime damage to be the tipping point of when we decide to use force on a crowd that has a lot of individuals who are still peacefully demonstrating their constitutional rights.”
APD has announced that the entire investigation of the June 15 protest has been turned over to the New Mexico State Police.
RELEASED PENDING TRIAL
On June 15, APD arrested Steven Ray Baca, 31, who was suspected of shooting Scott Williams at the protest during an altercation he had with Williams. Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was forced to drop the most serious charge against Baca relating to the shooting of Williams. Baca was instead charged with felony aggravated battery and two petty misdemeanor charges stemming from interactions with 3 unidentified women during the protest with the confrontation caught on video. Unless the 3 unidentified women are found, its likely those charges will have to be dismissed. Without a victim to testify that they were the ones assaulted by Baca and they were not assaulting Baca, there is no crime. Baca is also charged with carrying a gun without a concealed carry permit.
On Monday, June 22, Baca was released pending trial after a detention hearing on charges of aggravated battery and unlawful carrying of a handgun. The charges Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez have not filed are related to the shooting that injured Scott Williams, saying the investigation is ongoing. As part of his release conditions, Baca has been ordered to not attend any protests nor have any contact with any witnesses and he is prohibited from caring a weapon.
CONDEMNATION BY CITY COUNCILLORS
On June 16, less than 24 hours after the protest, Albuquerque City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton released statements concerning APD’s handling of the violence connected to the June 15 protest. Councilors Benton and Davis have asked the Keller administration to provide a public accounting for the events and decisions as they unfolded, and to make those available for public review through the Council’s hearings process.
Following are both statements:
CITY COUNCILOR PAT DAVIS
“I am deeply disturbed by the escalation of events that transpired last night in our city. Like all of us, I am hopeful for the full recovery of the victim of the shooting. While we deserve to quickly see a full detail of the events and decisions as they unfolded, I have real concerns about the decisions made before and during the planned prayer vigil and protests at the Albuquerque Museum that allowed at least three different groups, including one armed militia, with three different agendas to converge and antagonize each other unimpeded. Those charged with making decisions about engagement have put our officers in the impossible situation of protecting the rights of conflicting protesters while not intervening to prevent the inevitable conflicts. At its core, policing is about protecting life and property. By that standard, the city failed on both counts last night. It is time for the City to engage in serious soul searching about how we help de-escalate conflicts across the board.”
CITY COUNCILOR ISAAC BENTON
“There appear to be similarities between last night’s actions and those in our downtown a few weekends ago. In each case, outside opportunists were able to take advantage of a thoughtful and peaceful protest to advance their own agendas that include mayhem and destruction, targeting public and private property and endangering innocent persons. It is the responsibility of the police and senior leadership to understand and anticipate the dynamics and potential conflicts, and take appropriate precautionary measures.In events last night and a few weekends ago, the City failed to plan for or respond quickly enough as the dynamics evolved. There is now an unfortunate perception that the City has been willing to stand aside as destruction occurs. That perception must be changed. It is easy to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking and criticism after the fact. But we must learn the lessons of our mistakes and adjust the City’s strategy publicly and quickly to ensure that the right to protest is protected, without allowing intimidation or destruction. I’ve joined African-American leaders in efforts to remove Confederate monuments in Old Town. I completely understand the concerns of Native Americans and others about the Oñate statues and the glorification of other symbols of oppression. These efforts cannot be hijacked by opportunists who would deny a civil discourse about their meaning and our common history.”
CONDEMNATION OF APD BY DA RAUL TORREZ
On Wednesday, June 17, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez held a press conference to complain that his office was searching for more witnesses who were at a June 15 protest when it became total chaos after a protester Scott Williams was shot Steven Baca. Torrez said that APD’s lack of control over the scene posed major challenges for prosecutors.
After the protest, APD recovered guns, knives and ammunition, including the 13 guns and 34 magazines taken from militia members . Torrez claimed he asked APD about what weapons were at the scene and who they belonged to and lamented:
“We don’t have yet a complete inventory from the APD about who collected those items. Were they all put together and assigned ownership to somebody? Did we interview each individual person or did we just gather up weapons?”
Torrez was very critical of APD’s handling of the investigation and the failure to secure witness interviews and statements. Torrez said that the investigation had been “adversely affected” by APD’s response of riot police especially with the use of smoke munitions. According to Torrez:
“More importantly and more troubling from our perspective is the fact that after APD and police arrived at the scene because of the dynamic situation and the tense situation that developed between police officers and members of the crowd protesters and counter protesters there were tactics that were used by APD that made it impossible for key witnesses to the event to actually make statements. … Frankly, we have been put in a situation too many times in this community where investigations are rushed, investigations are incomplete and there is an expectation that quick decisions are made. As … prosecutors who have to uphold an oath to be objective and impartial, we can’t do that. We have to get it right.”
During his press conference, Torrez said the biggest question that needed an answer is whether Scott Williams, the shooting victim, had a knife in his hand during his confrontation with Steven Baca and said:
“There was some contention that [Scott Williams] was armed. The only item we could see in his possession are the eye glasses falling from him in this moment”.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez is highly critical of APD’s handling of the investigation, calling it a fundamentally incomplete police investigation. According to Torrez, the original complaint omitted the fact that Baca was seen on video assaulting a woman in the crowd, which would negate his claims of self-defense.
Steven Baca’s attorney believes Williams was armed with a knife and used it to threaten Baca before Baca shot him.
KELLER, BENTON AND DAVIS PAID POLITICAL CONSULTANT INVOLVED WITH JUNE 15 PROTEST
An interesting aspect of the June 15 protest is that a paid political consultant for Mayor Tim Keller, Councilors Isaac Benton and Pat Davis, attended the June 15 protest. The paid political consultant is Neri Olguin. She is a well-known, very progressive consultant who progressive candidate go to manage their campaigns. She has clientele all over the state. Olguin is the principal of “Olguin Campaigns and Communications” . The web page includes the listing of the following clientele:
Isaac Benton, Albuquerque City Council, District 2 , 2019 campaign.
Isaac Benton, Albuquerque City Council, District 2 , 2013 campaign.
Pat Davis, Albuquerque City Council, District 6, 2019 campaign.
ABQ Forward Together MFC, PAC supporting Tim Keller for Mayor, 2018
Tim Keller, State Senate District 17 , General Election campaign 2012
A link to the clientele of list of “Olguin Campaigns and Communications” is here:
Neri Olguin is also identified on the City Clerk’s campaign finance reports web site for the 2017 Mayor’s races as the chairperson for “ABQ FORWARD TOGETHER” whose purpose was “to support Tim Keller’s bid for Mayor” and that raised over $600,000 to spend on Keller’ s behalf to get him elected.
Olguin’s FACEBOOK page reveals that she attended the June 15 protest and she claims on her FACEBOOK page the protesters were the peaceful ones at the event. Confidential sources are saying Olguin was actively involved with the planning and recruiting of people to attend the protest. There is no information available if Olguin contacted Mayor Keller, Issac Benton nor Pat Davis about APD’s handling of the incident.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The term “fog of war” has been defined by various sources as “the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding one’s own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign. Military forces try to reduce the fog of war through military intelligence and friendly force tracking systems.”
DAVIS AND BENTON ULTERIOR MOTIVES
Many will say that whatever mistakes were made by APD during the June 15 protest can be attributed to the “fog of war”. How APD reacted and dealt with the protest amounts to being a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” when it comes to the general public. When it comes to City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton both appear way too anxious to get their statements out and in less than 24 hours after what had happened and not holding back their fire. Neither disclosed to what extent they had been briefed by APD command staff nor the Keller Administration. What is totally unknown is to what extent Davis and Benton were briefed by their political consultant and what spin was placed on the events that unfolded and who was claimed to be at fault by their political consultant.
One thing is for certain is that Davis and Benton have stepped up their efforts to be critical of APD ever since the killing of African American George Floyd by a police officer. Their motivations are highly questionable and is nothing but political opportunism. The Albuquerque City Council plays a crucial oversight role of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) including controlling its budget. Benton and Davis did nothing when it comes to Albuquerque Police Department (APD) reforms mandated under the Federal Court Consent decree. For over 4 years, both never challenged the previous Republican Administration and the former APD command staff in any meaningful way demanding compliance with the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree reforms. Each time the Federal Court appointed Monitor presented his critical reports of APD to the City Council, Benton and Davis remained silent. Both declined to demand accountability from the prior Republican Mayor and hold the APD command staff responsible for dragging their feet on the reforms. Both Benton and Davis failed to attend any one of the federal court hearings on the consent decree.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY RAUL TORREZ
District Attorney Raul Torrez, now that he has been elected to a second term by not having any opposition, does not help much by laying all the blame on APD as to what happened at the June 15 protest of the Onate Statue that resulted in a man getting shot.
Torrez is the same DA who immersed himself personally in the Victoria Martens prosecution case, the brutal murder of the 9 year old who was murdered and her body dismembered and burned, with DA’s office rushing to indict. Torrez held on to forensic evidence review, did not expedite his own review, only to announce he had to dismiss charges and the murderer was still on the loose.
Torrez use to brag about his great relations with APD, that it was far better than that of his predecessor, and that he got along great with APD. At one time Torrez said he had assigned Assistant District Attorneys to all the area command substations. Just exactly where was Torrez when APD was implementing the tactical plan for the June 15 dealing with the protest? The answer is grooming his Onate beard he has grown and getting ready for his next press conference to lay the blame on all other agencies for the shortcomings of his office’s prosecutions in high profile cases.
APD DEPUTY CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA MAKES UNFORTUNATE REMARKS
APD Deputy Chief Harold Medina says of the June 15 protest investigation “we knew that we didn’t have the luxury of securing the scene as usual.” Medina’s comments were very unfortunate. The public perception is that it is not a question of luxury. APD should have been able to dispatched enough officers to deal with separating the 3 groups: the protesters, the “anti-protesters” and the citizens militia. The undercover officers should have been able to have acted faster to secure the area.
The investigation has now been turned over to the New Mexico State Police and after it is completed and reported on, the public and APD should have a better understanding of what happened. More importantly, the State Police investigation should be able to identify what APD did wrong and make recommendation on how to fix it, and if more training is needed by APD in handling protests. The State Police need to expedite their recommendations given the fact the city is facing a very hot summer and even more protests are likely.