A group of unruly protesters seized materials city workers were using Oct. 12 on the Santa Fe Plaza to build a barrier around the obelisk — but abandoned amid a melee — to help topple the 152-year-old war monument.

Almost two weeks after the obelisk was ripped down during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally after officers with the Santa Fe Police Department walked away from the scene, the city has announced no new arrests or details and has delayed the public release of reports and videos documenting the incident.

But police surveillance video obtained Saturday by The New Mexican gives a bird’s-eye view of the lawlessness and destruction as it unfolded in a matter of minutes.

It shows, among other things, demonstrators picking up long, wooden boards a city construction crew abandoned at the worksite after a confrontation between police and protesters broke out. The protesters used the boards to help position rope around the three tiers of the towering obelisk before pulling each one down in buoyant celebration.

A city spokeswoman could not be reached for comment late Saturday on the video.

City and police officials have said they had no prior knowledge that protesters planned to bring the obelisk down during the rally.

Santa Fe police spokesman Greg Gurulé said last week the department was still investigating the incident and might release records in the coming week. “We are assembling all the officers’ reports and videos so they can be released together at the same time so you have a complete picture” of the incident, he said.

Criminal complaints the agency filed in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court a day after the protest said Dylan Wrobel, 27, and Sean Sunderland, 24, were arrested during a scuffle at the scene before the obelisk was toppled. Wrobel is facing charges of battery on a peace officer and resisting an officer, while Sunderland was charged with resisting an officer and criminal trespass.

But no one has been charged with destroying the monument.

Police announced in the days after the incident they were trying to identify two men — one suspected of initiating the destruction and another accused of participating. The department has not yet named the suspects.

Mayor Alan Webber recently said he thought police made the right decision to back away from the scene rather than escalate the confrontation. He has said in the past that no monument is worth a human life.

“Officers on the ground decided in their command role that it was safer for the community, for the police, to withdraw and come back later than to stand in there and exchange blows and maybe see the escalation of a serious problem as we’ve seen in other communities,” Webber said in a recent Facebook Live address.

The surveillance video, which captures four different views of the Plaza, shows a relatively empty downtown late in the morning Oct. 12 as a crew of about eight workers builds a protective shell around the obelisk, a long-running source of controversy that heated up earlier this year. The obelisk, also known as the Soldiers Monument, “honors the lives of men who died in two intersection conflicts — the Civil War and the Indian Wars,” noted historian and anthropologist Estevan Rael-Gálvez wrote recently.

“It is seated upon a raised base, decorated with laurel wreaths symbolizing triumph, held up by four pillars framing inscriptions on marble, one of which has been the subject of contentious civic debate and community activism for decades,” wrote Rael-Gálvez, a former state historian.

The controversial inscription at issue reads, “To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with the savage Indians of the Territory of New Mexico.”

Although the word “savage” was chiseled away decades ago, the monument remained a source of contention, prompting the mayor to call for its removal in June. Indigenous activists and others believed the mayor didn’t act fast enough, however. They accused him of reneging on his promise and ultimately took matters into their own hands during the third day of what was described as an “occupation” of the Plaza in observance of Indigenous Peoples Day.

About an hour into the surveillance video, protesters start to show up with signs and occupy the Plaza bandstand. Among them appears to be the unidentified man police have accused of initiating the damage by later climbing onto the obelisk with rope and chains.

At around 11:30 a.m. on the video — which is more likely 12:30 p.m. because the video’s time stamp is off by an hour — protesters start to hang banners on the bandstand, and the crowd continues to grow.

About 20 minutes later, protesters climb over a metal fence around the obelisk, prompting a group of officers huddled in front of the monument to intervene.

The camera pointing closest to the obelisk pans away from the chaotic scene several times, making it impossible to see exactly what transpires on the ground.

But what is clear is that the situation continues to escalate with each passing minute. Protesters become more confrontational and aggressive with about a dozen police officers trying to control the crowd.

The video shows the officers are far outnumbered.

While officers are arresting two men lying on the ground near the obelisk as it is swarmed by protesters, the man accused of initiating the damage climbs onto the obelisk and pulls out a chain from a backpack. The camera zooms in on the suspect as he changes into what appear to be rock climbing shoes — an indication that law enforcement is closely monitoring the volatile situation. The camera also shows at least three police officers in the background walking away from the Plaza.

As officers escort the two men they arrested — Wrobel and Sunderland — off the Plaza, the camera maneuvers back to the obelisk and shows the suspect, whose pants are ripped under his left buttock, trying to climb to the top of the monument as a chain dangles from his pants or waist.

Around 11:59 a.m. on the video, which is likely 12:59 p.m., the video shows protesters encircling the obelisk — and what appears to be a little boy riding a tricycle around them.

Protesters then begin to form a human wall around the base of the obelisk, holding signs, wooden boards and sections of metal fence that the city had installed to try to keep people out of the area.

After a rope around the obelisk is pushed to the top tier with a wooden board, protesters start to clear the area and then yank on the rope, pulling down the tier. They repeat the method until all three tiers are brought down.

Less than an hour after the first tier is toppled, the video shows, a small group of women climb atop what’s left of the obelisk.

Among them is a woman pumping her fist in the air. She is wearing dark-framed glasses and a black T-shirt emblazoned on front with the words “The future is indigenous.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(17) comments


Since I can not bring back the monument, I will do the next best thing and try to vote out the major and city council as I hold them responsible

Lee Vigil

Has anyone checked if there was a permit for the protest for that day? If there was a permit, isn't the person who obtained the permit responsible for any damage incurred as a result of said protest?

Angel Ortiz

This event still makes me sick to my stomach. Watching these vandals and street trash causing nothing but mayhem and destruction is heartbreaking. I still wonder how many were actually Native American? Does anyone know where the 2 individuals who were arrested are from? Don't look very indigenous to me. Multiple K-9 units should have been on site. I wonder what the "peaceful protesters" will target next?

Donato Velasco

now take down the portal at the palace of the governors since they would hang people from it...

Samuel Herrera

The Mayor, police chief, City Attorney and Councilor Villareal need to resign. The Mayor needs to be criminally charged with being an accomplice to this crime.

Carlos Vasquez

It's a good century to be indigenous...

Dan Chase

The worthless police chief and his admin couldn’t handle that?? Then we need new leaders because what if something really major happens?? Great pick mayor

John Martinez

Where are these trash protesting cowards now? It was such a big deal for you all to destroy this structure now you all are afraid to take responsibility? You and the Mayor are cowards and criminals!!

Carlos Vasquez

Presente...aqui estoy mi hito...

Ro Kno

I love how it is reported as “chaos”. A small group of people, unhindered, pulled down the statue is “chaos”? No what is chaotic is the thought process of this mayor. You, Mr Webber, are an utter waste of of city space. Please do most of us a favor and step down.

Mike Johnson

So, not only did the mayor encourage and no doubt helped plan this, by removing police and not allowing enough there to stop it, he also ordered his work crews to provide, and conveniently abandon, the necessary supplies and equipment to assist in this vandalism. Arrest Webber if you can't (or are not allowed to) find the others.

Robert Hanagan

That little crowd of people made the police so scared they stood back and watched? What a joke the Mayor is, he must think we are all idiots, he had already decided to let the spineless punks tear it down. The mayor should stop lying and resign.

Bill Nibchuck

"City and police officials have said they had no prior knowledge that protesters planned to bring the obelisk down during the rally."

Gee, with all the protesting and idiots chaining themselves to the statue, how clueless is our mayor, police chief and city leaders?


Disappointed with the Mayor. If you allow for unlawful destruction of property, as an elected official, you encourage continued unlawful actions. Hence the $2B in damages around the nation. I would bet that the culprits are not even native. Mr. Mayor you will not be elected to another political office in NM. History is history. You can have your own option, but you do not have the right to unlawfully destroy property.

Stefanie Beninato

Why not show the video so we all can see it? It sounds like a set up to me....Work being done during a holiday when a protest about the obelisk is occurring and little fences used to direct lines of people--not exactly protective of workers or observers during the construction project. Oh, Webber, you have a lot of mansplaining---oops explaining-- to do.

Richard Reinders

Your right like crime stoppers televise everything you have on video and give a phone # to call if you know any of the criminal, and Stefanie your right Webber got what he wanted by shifting blame on the Red Nation and Three Sister remember he used their 100 person petition to remove De Vargas, he just thinks all the public are dumb and don't see through his calculated agenda.

Lee Vigil

Take a look at image #3, then take a look at the Three Sisters Collective homepage. Gotta say, some of these people look a lot like the people on that webpage. https://threesisterscollective.org

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