1 wounded in shooting at protest over New Mexico statue of Spanish conquistador

1 wounded in shooting at protest over New Mexico statue of Spanish conquistador

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A protester was wounded in a shooting during a demonstration against a plan to redisplay a statue of a controversial Spanish conquistador in the New Mexico city of Española on Thursday, authorities said. A suspect has been arrested.

The shooting occurred a little before 12:30 p.m. local time in front of the county’s offices, where the statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate was to have been displayed before the county reversed course the night before, Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield said in a news briefing

A large crowd of protesters had gathered outside the location, and the shooting stemmed from an altercation between them, a sheriff’s office spokesperson told CBS News.

The male victim was shot in the upper torso and was taken to a local hospital. His condition was unknown, the sheriff’s spokesperson said.

The sheriff’s spokesperson identified the suspect as 23-year-old Ryan Martinez. The exact circumstances that precipitated the shooting were unclear.

Demonstrators occupied the platform, at the Rio Arriba County Complex in Espanola, New Mexico
An altar set up by protesters is displayed in front of a concrete platform where authorities had planned to reinstall a statue of conquistador Juan de Onate at the Rio Arriba County Complex in Espanola, New Mexico, on September 27, 2023.

Andrew Hay / REUTERS


Merrifield told reporters that the Oñate statue had previously been removed from a different location in 2020. However, Rio Arriba County commissioners recently decided to relocate and redisplay the statue at the county’s Española annex, and a rededication ceremony had been scheduled for Thursday.

The sheriff said he submitted a letter to the county commissioners last week “advising them of my concerns,” and informing them that he “disagreed with” their decision to move the statue “at the current time.”

“More importantly, just to prevent any safety issues, concerns, that we knew we were going to have,” Merrifield added. “And obviously we have a situation as of today.”

Merrifield said two of the three commissioners agreed to cancel the ceremony following his letter. The sheriff’s spokesperson said commissioners made the decision not to go forward with the ceremony late Wednesday night.

“I’m very grateful for that, and they made the decision to not do it, with all the safety concerns that have risen from this,” Merrifield told reporters.

Española is located about 25 miles north of Santa Fe. New Mexico State Police, which is leading the investigation into the shooting, did not immediately reply to a CBS News request for comment.

In June 2020, another man was shot while protesters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were attempting to tear down a different Oñate statue. 

Oñate was a Spanish explorer who colonized New Mexico for Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries and served as the region’s governor. He was known for his brutality against indigenous people and settlers, and his statues have sparked criticism and controversy. 

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