Sheriff's official IDs suspected shooter in violence at planned site of Oñate statue

Sep. 28—ESPAÑOLA — The site of a planned celebration for the installation and "rededication" of a nearly 30-year-old bronze statute of conquistador Juan de Oñate erupted in violence between protesters around noon Thursday, and a man was wounded by gunfire.

Rio Arriba County sheriff's Maj. Lorenzo Aguilar said Pojoaque Pueblo police have arrested the suspected shooter, Ryan Martinez. A news conference is planned at 4 p.m. for more details on the incident and the charges Martinez faces, Aguilar added.

The statue installation and morning event at the Rio Arriba County building in Española were canceled Wednesday evening due to concerns about an ongoing protest at the site led by Native activists, but groups continued to gather there. A shot was fired amid a scuffle.

Rio Arriba County sheriff's Sgt. Chris Gurule said a man later identified as Martinez was taken into custody shortly after the shooting, around 12:15 p.m.

A witness said the victim was Jacob Johns, a resident of Spokane, Wash. She and Johns had come to the area together for a climate conference and joined the protest when they learned about it, added the woman, who left with him as he was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Other protesters provided aid to the victim for more than 10 minutes until emergency medical personnel arrived and took him to Presbyterian Española Hospital. Gurule said the man was shot in the chest or stomach and was in stable condition. He did not confirm the man's identity.

After the shot was fired, Martinez, who was wearing a red hat with the words Make America Great Again and a turquoise hoodie sweatshirt, was seen running to the parking lot carrying a handgun. He appeared to speed off in a white car.

Sheriff's deputies had asked Martinez to leave the gathering earlier Thursday, but a sheriff's office official later stepped in and allowed him to stay in an effort to protect his civil liberties. Martinez had identified himself to The New Mexican prior to the shooting. He had gathered with others, several wearing the iconic Trump MAGA hats, who were counterprotesting the Native activists.

It remains unclear whether the statue installation will move forward.

"That would be up to the discretion of the County Commission, and I will definitely support and respect what decision they decide to do moving forward with it," County Manager Jeremy Maestas said.

"Right now my main concern is just ensuring the safety of everyone," Maestas said, adding his administration was working closely with law enforcement during the investigation.

County Commission Chairman Alex Naranjo, who backed the statue installation, expressed frustration with the events that unfolded Wednesday and Thursday.

"My reaction to the shooting is that I'm extremely disappointed," he said. "I understand that there's now about 30 or 40 or 50 police cars over there and everything else. Where [were] these law enforcement officers yesterday?"

Demonstrators had been camping outside the county offices, he said. "Those people shouldn't have been permitted to stay there."

Naranjo's uncle, longtime Rio Arriba County political boss Emilio Naranjo, had led the effort to commission the $108,000 Oñate statue in the early 1990s. If it had been up to him, Alex Naranjo said, the statue would have been installed as planned this week.

He directed his frustration toward the Red Nation activists involved in the protest but did not mention the shooter or other counterprotesters, or express sympathy for the victim.

He said he doesn't believe he "should succumb to pressure from a minority group of individuals that, first of all, aren't even from here. I don't know where they're from," Naranjo said. "They should get a life, go to work or do something. But they're not from the Espanola Valley."

He added, "Maybe one or two were friends that I've known from the past."

Rio Arriba County officials had prepared a concrete pedestal for the statue, depicting the conquistador on a horse, at the building in Española more than three years after its removal from its longtime home at the Oñate Monument Resource and Visitors Center along N.M. 68 in Alcalde. The action in 2020 came in an attempt to protect the 3-ton statue at a time when controversial monuments nationwide and throughout New Mexico were drawing protests and vandalism.

A public notice released earlier this month from Maestas announced the statue would have a new home.

However, its pedestal became an altar for Native protesters, who surrounded it this week with squash, pottery and blankets, as well as signs saying, "Oñate? No thanks!" and "Land Back."

After protesters camped out at the site for days, Maestas announced in a news release Wednesday the ceremony would be "postponed until further notice." The postponement was "due to unforeseen circumstances and in the interest of public safety," the release said.

A Rio Arriba County Commission meeting scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon at the county building on Industrial Park Road in Española also was rescheduled. A notice on the county's website announced the meeting was moved to Oct. 5 at the county building in remote Tierra Amarilla.

Native activists from groups including the Red Nation, the Three Sisters Collective and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women were at the site Thursday morning to celebrate their efforts to at least delay the reinstallation of the monument.

Protesters distributed posole, tortillas and apples and discussed a new demand: to change the name of the nearby Española thoroughfare Paseo de Oñate to Tewa Valley Road.

"The Oñate statue isn't going to come up today or any day," Justine Teba, of the Red Nation told a crowd gathered at the county building before the shooting occurred. "Do not resurrect Oñate!"

The statue holds a long history of controversy.

In 1998, someone famously removed the right foot of the statue "in solidarity of the men of Acoma Pueblo," according to a newspaper report at the time. The vandalism called attention to historical accounts recalling Oñate's order to remove the right feet of dozens of Acoma men in the late 1500s.

Staff writer Maya Hilty contributed to this report.

This is a developing story and will be updated. Check back for details.