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Civil Suit Settled for Native Activist Shot at Statue Protest

Conquistador and colonizer of New Mexico, Juan Oñate
Conquistador and colonizer of New Mexico, Juan Oñate

By Morgan Lee

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A settlement has been reached in a civil lawsuit seeking damages from three relatives in the shooting of a Native American activist in northern New Mexico amid confrontations about a statue of a Spanish conquistador and aborted plans to reinstall it in public, according to court documents published Tuesday.

The shooting, in September 2023, severely wounded Jacob Johns, of Spokane, Washington, a well-traveled activist for environmental causes and an advocate for Native American rights who is of Hopi and Akimel O’odham tribal descent. His attorney, John Day, confirmed the settlement and said the terms were confidential.

A single gunshot set off chaos at an outdoor gathering in Española over canceled plans to install a bronze likeness of conquistador Juan de Oñate, who is both revered and reviled for his role in establishing early settlements along the Upper Rio Grande starting in 1598.

In January Johns filed a lawsuit asking for damages from 23-year-old Ryan Martinez of Sandia Park, who is being held without bail on charges of attempted murder as well as assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly pointing a gun at a woman at the protest. The civil suit also accused Martinez's parents of negligence and callous indifference for ignoring their live-at-home son's “dangerous and exceptionally disturbing behavior" with guns.

An attorney for the Martinez family did not immediately respond to messages.

The family has denied it was at fault or liable, while Martinez has pleaded not guilty in state court to criminal charges as prosecutors seek sentence enhancements by attempting to prove that the shooting was motivated by bias against a particular social group.

An array of Native American leaders in New Mexico and beyond have condemned the shooting on public property where advocates for Native American rights had gathered to celebrate with song, prayer and speeches about the county’s decision not to install the statue that day.

A defense attorney has said Martinez feared for his life after being shoved to the ground as he pulled out a permitted concealed handgun. But a judge found sufficient cause for trial after reviewing surveillance and cellphone video of the confrontation and noting that Martinez arrived with loaded guns and should have known he was provoking a crowd with contrary views.

Martinez is scheduled for trial in July, with Johns listed among dozens of potential witnesses by prosecutors.

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.