The Bernalillo County District Attorney has appointed a special prosecutor to handle the criminal case against a former Albuquerque City Council candidate who shot a protester in June 2020 at the statue depicting Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate called La Jornada at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque’s Old Town neighborhood.
Steven Ray Baca, 34, is accused of attacking several protesters and shooting Scott Williams four times in the torso with a .40-caliber handgun. He is charged with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm for shooting Williams, two counts of battery on two other protesters, and unlawful carrying of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty in August 2020.
His trial begins June 20 and is set to last approximately eight days, according to Second Judicial District Court Judge Brett R. Loveless.
On Jan. 13, attorney David Foster took the oath to serve as special prosecutor in the criminal case, according to court records. Second Judicial District Attorney Sam Bregman appointed Foster in a court filing five days later.
Foster is a former prosecutor who has handled criminal cases in New Mexico and New York, according to his website, and has offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Whenever a district attorney in New Mexico cannot prosecute a case “for ethical reasons or other good cause,” state law allows them to appoint a special assistant district attorney to act as a special prosecutor in one case. In his role in the case, Foster will have all of the authority and duties Bregman would normally have.
Spokesperson Nancy Laflin said in a written statement on Monday that Bregman chose to ask for an outside prosecutor because the DA’s office has a “high volume of cases.”
“There are a number of attorneys in the community who are working with us to prosecute cases,” Laflin said. “That’s what happened here.”
A request for comment sent to Foster on Monday was not returned.
Williams, through his attorney Laura Schauer Ives, declined to comment.
Diego Esquibel, one of the two attorneys representing Baca, said Foster’s appointment doesn’t change anything about the case.
“It’s not unusual, it’s a pretty common practice on some of these cases,” Esquibel said in an interview on Monday. “It will be nice to actually get a fresh set of eyes looking at the case. We felt that the case got politicized pretty early on, and I think that that’s kind of driven the way that the case has been handled.”
Loveless estimates a trial to last eight days and has scheduled it to begin June 20, according to court records. He has required all parties to hand over scientific evidence by Feb. 17, interview all witnesses before April 5, and hold any evidence hearings by May 15.
Former DA anticipated self-defense claim
The shooting happened during deep social unrest in 2020: the George Floyd protests, criticism of police violence, and the destruction or removal of more than 160 monuments to the Confederacy — including the removal of the Spanish colonial statues in Alcalde, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.
Prosecutors in August 2020 wrote that they anticipate Baca’s attorneys will claim he acted in self defense. But former Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez previously said his office will argue that because Baca was the first aggressor, he will not be able to make a claim of self defense, and that Williams acted in response to Baca’s “violent provocation.”
In the minutes leading up to the shooting, video shows Baca push a woman from behind, causing her to fall to the ground and injure her legs. It also shows him moments later trying to push past another woman to get near the statue, and while she had her arms out and her back turned, he grabbed her shoulder and slammed her into a concrete sidewalk where she hit her head.
A group of protesters including Williams chased Baca away from the monument, according to court records. As Baca ran away, he sprayed them with mace. One protester attempted to hit Baca in the head with a longboard, but dropped it. Williams attempted to use the longboard to knock the gun out of Baca’s hands, but Baca shot Williams.
After the shooting, video shows six members of a right-wing militia called the New Mexico Civil Guard armed with rifles surrounding Baca. Other members of the militia were also rendering aid to Williams’ gunshot wounds.
Last year, Torrez won a civil case that tried to dissolve the militia group, which had mostly broken up and dormant since the 2020 election. The group did not have legal representation and was not responding to court deadlines. Documents in that case revealed that Baca acted alone and was not part of the group during the Oñate shooting.
District Court Judge David A. Murphy in September recused himself from presiding over the case, which was reassigned to Loveless.
Editor-in-Chief Marisa Demarco recused herself from editing these stories out of a conflict-of-interest concern. Instead, this story was edited by Senior Reporter Shaun Griswold and Sean Scully, a national editor with States Newsroom.