By Andrew Hay
TIERRA AMARILLA, New Mexico (Reuters) -A New Mexico judge on Friday found probable cause to try a counter protester for attempted murder for shooting a Native American activist at a protest over plans to reinstall the statue of a 16th century Spanish colonial ruler.
Ryan Martinez, 23, of Sandia Park, New Mexico, was charged for the Sept. 28 shooting of Jacob Johns, 42, of Spokane, Washington, who remains in critical condition in an Albuquerque, New Mexico hospital.
New Mexico District Court Judge Jason Lidyard said Martinez provoked protesters by repeatedly trying to enter an area where they were celebrating postponement of the statue’s installation following protests against it.
He granted the prosecution’s request Martinez remain in jail pending trial, citing concerns about his social media posts advocating violence against the U.S. Federal Reserve, his possession of a fully-automatic rifle and complaints he walked around his community armed with an AR-15 and pistol, wearing body armor.
The case may now go to a jury trial.
The shooting marked the latest violence around statues of Juan de Onate erected in the 1990s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Spaniards.
The statue was removed in 2020 from just north of Espanola during nationwide anti-racism protests and was to be reinstated at a county complex in the town.
Nicole Moss, Martinez’s lawyer, said protesters took objection to the red hat he was wearig with the Donald Trump slogan “Make America Great Again.” She said he was peacefully taking photographs when he was pushed and attacked by protesters causing him to “panic” and pull out a handgun.
“He fired one shot at Mr. Johns in self-defense,” Moss said.
Prosecutors said the shooting was “calculated,” Martinez having an extra magazine of ammunition in his pants waistband along with a handgun.
Prior to the shooting Martinez told a police officer and protesters to “fuck off” when they approached him, Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Dennis testified.
Protest organizer Mateo Peixinho said he asked Martinez prior to the shooting why he had come to the event.
“He said he was frustrated and angry at the county commissioners for allowing a few Indian protesters to stop them from doing what they needed to do,” said Peixinho.
Onate monuments have long outraged Native Americans and others who decry his brutal 1598 colonization.
Some descendants of Spanish colonial settlers, known as Hispanos, say Onate should be celebrated as part of New Mexico’s Hispanic heritage.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Tierra Amarilla, New MexicoEditing by Donna Bryson, Rod Nickel, Matthew Lewis and Lincoln Feast)