(Reuters) - A New Mexico prosecutor on Wednesday dropped a shooting charge against an Albuquerque man suspected of shooting a protester and called for further investigations after allegations the protester was armed at the time he was shot.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez said he had serious concerns an initial police investigation into the Monday shooting did not identify who owned multiple weapons collected at the scene, including knives, nor interview key bystanders and police.
Torrez dropped an initial aggravated battery with a deadly weapon charge against Steven Baca, 31, after images emerged online showing protester Scott Williams, 39, holding what was rumored to be a knife before he was allegedly shot by Baca. Torrez said he expected Baca to claim self defense in the case.
“There have been rumors on social media about what transpired in the final seconds before this and we are actively looking into those and whether or not this was justified,” Torrez told an online press briefing. “The reason he is not facing that charge right now is because this investigation is not complete.”
Videos show Baca, a counterprotester at a demonstration to remove a conquistador statue, tussling with demonstrators before pulling out a handgun and shooting several times.
Torrez said that under New Mexico law, a person cannot claim self defense if they are the first aggressor.
Torrez said his office had put out a call for information on allegations Williams was armed.
“Right now I have no evidence to suggest that he was in any way armed,” Torrez said. “The fact that we haven’t charged it (shooting charge) today doesn’t mean it will not be charged.”
Torrez filed four new charges against Baca for unlawful carrying of a firearm and battery for allegedly assaulting three women before the shooting.
Baca’s lawyer Jason Bowles said he would plead not guilty to all charges, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Bowles did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Michael Perry