(CNN)The New Mexico man who allegedly shot a protester in Albuquerque on Monday is no longer charged with the most serious count of aggravated battery after prosecutors expressed concerns about the police department’s “rushed” handling of the investigation.

“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,” Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez told a news conference Wednesday. “As professionals and prosecutors who have to uphold an oath to be objective and impartial, we can’t do that. We have to get it right.”Steven Ray Baca, 31, still faces three counts of battery and the unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon, Torrez said. He remains in custody, Torrez added.Albuquerque Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Thursday that the district attorney’s office had signed the preliminary police report drafted before all video evidence and witness interviews were conducted.Read More”We’ve agreed from the beginning that report is just preliminary and therefore incomplete and that supplemental material will include facts regarding other actions taken that instigated violence,” Gallegos said.Demonstrators climb the statue of Juan de Oñate in Old Town in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while an armed member of the New Mexico Civil Guard stands by during a protest calling for its removal on Monday, June 15, 2020.Demonstrators climb the statue of Juan de Oñate in Old Town in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while an armed member of the New Mexico Civil Guard stands by during a protest calling for its removal on Monday, June 15, 2020.Demonstrators climb the statue of Juan de Oñate in Old Town in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while an armed member of the New Mexico Civil Guard stands by during a protest calling for its removal on Monday, June 15, 2020.The charges against Baca stem from a protest that turned violent in Albuquerque surrounding a sculpture of Juan de Oñate, the Spanish conquistador who established the colony of New Mexico over 400 years ago. Oñate led a massacre of 800 to 1,000 Acoma Pueblo Indians, after which he cut a foot off some survivors and sold some into slavery. He was later convicted of using excessive force and banished from New Mexico, and he remains a controversial figure in the state.A demonstration surrounding the sculpture on Monday led to a standoff between protesters and what officials believe was a vigilante group. During that time, Scott Williams was shot, and he is in stable but critical condition, his attorney said.Baca’s attorney, Jason Bowles, praised the decision to drop the charge and said his client was acting in self-defense. He said Baca was trying to disengage as one person attacked him with a skateboard and another man came at him with two knives.”Protests are a hallmark of our democracy, and if they’re conducted peacefully and people need to do that they have a right to do it,” Bowles said. “But they need to be peaceful. And this one turned dangerous, violent, and then you go to New Mexico law and that is: What is your right when someone’s confronting you with two knives and a skateboard and they’re trying to kill you? “You can respond with force, and that’s what he did.”Why the shooting charge was droppedTorrez said the charge was dropped because the investigation is not complete.”Rest assured that if in the final analysis the evidence is there we reserve the right to amend this information and add those charges, but at this stage it will be premature,” he said.”I want to make it absolutely clear, the reason he is not facing that (shooting) charge right now, is because this investigation is not complete,” Torrez added.Torrez also asked that the investigation into Baca be handed over to New Mexico State Police because the actions of Albuquerque police during the incident made them key witnesses to the event. He said he was concerned that the way the APD responded to the protesters after the shooting may have adversely impacted the department’s ability to collect evidence at the crime scene.New Mexico governor condemns vigilantes who might have instigated violence at demonstrationNew Mexico governor condemns vigilantes who might have instigated violence at demonstrationNew Mexico governor condemns vigilantes who might have instigated violence at demonstrationWilliams’ family issued a statement criticizing the Albuquerque police response.”When Steven Baca repeatedly attacked peaceful protestors in Albuquerque last night, Scott took bullets for the community he cares about,” said the statement, provided to CNN by the family’s attorney, Laura Schauer Ives.”While he did, the Albuquerque Police Department hid behind the Albuquerque museum, refused to respond to multiple requests for help, and only sent officers in once shots were fired,” the statement added.The Albuquerque Police Department said its officers intervened when the gathering turned from a peaceful vigil to a violent incident.”APD’s first goal for protests is to create a safe environment for everyone who wants to exercise free speech. Often, a uniformed police presence is counter-intuitive to a public discourse, which is why we have to monitor each incident carefully and decide the appropriate actions,” Gallegos, the APD spokesman, said in a statement.”On Monday, multiple police teams staged in different locations and responded when the gathering quickly turned from a peaceful prayer vigil to a violent incident that required a police response. Public protests are usually dynamic and filled with tension.”What the criminal complaint saidAccording to the criminal complaint from Albuquerque police, cell phone footage recorded by a bystander shows a man in a blue shirt, later identified as Baca, appearing to protect the statue. The complaint says Baca eventually left the area of the statue but was pursued by some people from the crowd.Videos seen and obtained by CNN from around this time show Baca pushing a woman onto the ground, and two protesters, Sradha Patel and Jonathan Juarez, told CNN the man had been harassing the protesters.The videos do not show what occurred before Baca pushed the woman. Police note that Baca’s “specific type of interaction with the crowd is unknown at this time.”Baca was eventually struck by a longboard and tackled to the ground by the man that hit him, the complaint says. Another “male is observed holding the end of the longboard with two hands and swinging it toward the area of Steven’s head and upper body,” the court document adds.”At this time, a series of gunshots are heard,” the complaint says.Baca fired four shots, according to the police complaint, and “declined to provide a statement to law enforcement.”Bowles, his attorney, said Baca plans to fight the other battery charges that remain.”His only intention was to get his friend out of the melee. And his friend, who was a female, was getting crushed by the crowd. He was trying to get her out of there and he was unsuccessful in doing so, and we’re going to defend all the charges,” he said.

Source Link:
https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/18/us/new-mexico-protest-shooting/index.html

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