A New Mexico man who drew his gun and fired at a protester after he was attacked during a melee over a statue in Albuquerque’s Old Town in June is now facing aggravated assault charges in the incident. 31-year old Steven Ray Baca was facing charges of carrying a firearm without a license, but on Monday Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez amended the criminal complaint against Baca, alleging that Baca actually started the fight that led to him firing shots.
“Any individual who would otherwise be able to claim self-defense cannot claim self-defense if he or she initiates a violent confrontation,” Torrez said. “It’s our belief Mr. Baca was the first aggressor in this context and the individual that he shot was acting in response to his violent provocation.”
Torrez acknowledged that it’s going to be a difficult case to present in court given the complex legal issues surrounding the allegations.
“Difficult” may be putting it mildly. As Baca’s attorney has noted, there’s video evidence showing Baca retreating from the protest area with a crowd pursuing him. Baca pulls out pepper spray in an attempt to create some distance between himself and the mob, and continues to try to leave the area before a group assaults him. Baca was hit with a skateboard, which is when he drew his gun and fired.
The D.A. argues that video taken before the incident shows Baca shoving a woman to the ground after she backed into him and blocked him from moving around the statue area, but even if Baca is found guilty of misdemeanor battery for that incident, I’m having a hard time seeing how that justifies a crowd chasing him down to beat him.
In addition to the new charges against Baca, the Bernalillo County D.A. is also pursuing a civil case against 14 members of the New Mexico Civil Guard who were at the protest site on the evening of June 15th as well. From Courthouse News:
According to the 39-page complaint filed Monday in Bernalillo County Court, “Numerous members of the NMCG attended the protest as a private vigilante or paramilitary unit wearing matching camouflage attire and sporting assault rifles and other military-style gear. Their professed purpose was to ‘protect’ the Oñate statue from defacement. In the tense atmosphere exacerbated by NMCG’s heavily armed presence an individual who apparently is not affiliated with the paramilitary group battered several female protesters before he ultimately shot and injured another protester.”
“NMCG’s presence fostered and encouraged violence by counter-protesters unaffiliated with NMCG. The armed presence simultaneously intimidated protesters and established an environment in which counter-protesters resorted to violence over words to convey their message. Steven Ray Baca, who does not appear to be a member of NMCG, joined with NMCG in attempting to keep protesters away from the statue. But with the backdrop of a heavily armed presence seemingly on his side, Baca was not content to express his viewpoint or even to simply restrain protesters. Instead, he began his agitation of the crowd by using a bullhorn and pepper spray, graduated to a battery on a woman with her back turned, escalated his violence further to an aggravated battery against another woman in the defenseless position of facing away from Baca, and finally finished what he began by shooting an unarmed man.”
The civil case against the NMGC seeks to declare the group a “public nuisance,” but is also pursuing an injunction that would prevent the group from “operating as a military unit independent of civil authority.” On Monday evening, the group posted a defense of their actions on the New Mexico Civil Guard Facebook page, stating:
“The Governor is again falsely accusing the NMCG, and threatening charges. She could not label us as racists and terrorists or tie us to the shooter who none of us knew and is now trying another tactic. She is trying to deflect from the fact that on her watch and Mayor Keller’s police were told to stand down and a man was shot. More individuals would have been hurt if we had not been there to do what APD wanted to do but the mayor and deputy chief ordered them not to. By ordering police to let protesters tear down statues and destroy property they made that situation violent if one cruiser would have been there there would have been no blood on the streets that day.”
The prosecution of Steven Baca on aggravated assault charges looks a lot more like a politically motivated legal stunt than an actual attempt at justice, at least at this point. Torrez, the local prosecutor, admits it’s going to be difficult to prove his case against Baca, but given the comments by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tom Keller after the shooting, it was clear that the prosecutor was under political pressure to go after Baca as hard as he could, even if it involved a weak case.
As for the civil litigation against the New Mexico Civil Guard, the Durango Herald points out that Torrez is working with a local law firm and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center on the case. The Georgetown group has been advocating for states to crack down on armed protesters, from New Mexico to Idaho, though the organization has said nothing about armed protesters on the Left, including the armed “security” at the now-disassembled CHOP/CHAZ in Seattle. The civil suit too seems to be far more about seeking headlines than actual justice. We’ll soon see how these cases play out in a court of law, as opposed to the court of public opinion.