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Retired Police Officer Tracks Down Escapee Who Shot Him Almost 50 Years Ago

2020-08-09 19:42:07

Daril Cinquanta, a retired Denver police officer, never forgot the man who shot him while he was on duty in 1971. So when the man, Luis Archuleta, escaped from prison in 1974, Mr. Cinquanta made it his mission to track him down.

He spent years calling contacts hoping to develop leads on Mr. Archuleta’s whereabouts. In the 1980s, information led him to believe that Mr. Archuleta was in San Jose, Calif., but it was a dead end. Mr. Archuleta’s escape was even highlighted on the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Mr. Cinquanta’s persistence paid off after nearly 50 years when he got an anonymous call on June 24 suggesting that he look up a name: Ramon Montoya.

The caller believed that the fugitive who shot Mr. Cinquanta was going by that name, and provided an address in Española, N.M., about 25 miles north of Santa Fe.

A search revealed that Mr. Montoya had been charged in 2011 with drunken driving. When Mr. Cinquanta searched the arrest, the person in the mug shot looking back at him was a considerably older Mr. Archuleta.

Acting on information Mr. Cinquanta shared with the Española Police Department and the F.B.I., the authorities on Aug. 5 arrested Mr. Archuleta, 77, who was also known as Larry Pusateri.

Mr. Archuleta had been living under the alias Ramon Montoya for almost 40 years, the F.B.I. said. He lived in a modest Española home that he shared with a woman, the authorities said.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that many of the people in Mr. Archuleta’s neighborhood knew little about a Ramon Montoya.

“I told people it was like a hobby,” Mr. Cinquanta, 72, said of his efforts to find his assailant. “I mean it kind of was. He shot me, he was dangerous and he was out there.”

When Mr. Cinquanta and Mr. Archuleta’s paths first crossed on Oct. 2, 1971, Mr. Cinquanta — then a rookie officer — spotted Mr. Archuleta in a car with two women.

To him, Mr. Archuleta looked “like a bad guy,” he recalled.

Indeed, five months earlier, Mr. Archuleta had been serving a sentence for burglary and drug possession convictions but had escaped from a California Department of Corrections prison “after putting dummies in the form of blankets and pillows in his bed,” according to an F.B.I. affidavit.

Mr. Cinquanta confronted Mr. Archuleta, requested his identification and asked him to get out of the vehicle.

The two walked to the back of Mr. Archuleta’s car, where Mr. Archuleta pulled a gun from his waistband. The officer tried to reach for it, and as the two men struggled, Mr. Archuleta shot Mr. Cinquanta in the stomach.

Mr. Archuleta fled.

“Back in those days, we didn’t have bulletproof vests, nor did we have radios that came out of the car,” Mr. Cinquanta said. “So I had to crawl to the car to call for help.”

An F.B.I. affidavit tells a sweeping story of Mr. Archuleta’s return to Colorado, and later, his second escape from confinement.

The authorities found Mr. Archuleta months later, after he was arrested in Mexico on drug-trafficking charges. As he was being booked, officials learned of his warrants in the United States. In 1973, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon of a police officer and sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.

Nearly 17 months later, Mr. Archuleta escaped from a state hospital in Pueblo, Colo., with another inmate, Sidney Riley.

Mr. Archuleta and Mr. Riley, along with three other inmates, were transported to the hospital for medical appointments. Mr. Riley asked to go to the restroom multiple times when they arrived, the F.B.I. affidavit said.

Mr. Archuleta was given permission to go to the restroom but never returned. A correctional officer who went to check on him was met by Mr. Archuleta, who pointed a gun at the officer. Mr. Riley threatened another officer with a gun, and the two inmates fled in a brown sedan.

“This escape was like something out of a Hollywood movie,” Mr. Cinquanta said.

Mr. Cinquanta said the local and state authorities exhausted their resources in searching for Mr. Archuleta and eventually sought federal help. (Mr. Riley was apprehended four days after the escape.)

After Mr. Cinquanta’s tip in June, F.B.I. agents interviewed a woman, who identified herself as Mr. Archuleta’s ex-wife, and Mr. Archuleta’s son. Both knew Mr. Archuleta as Ramon Montoya, according to the F.B.I. affidavit.

The authorities showed them a picture of Mr. Archuleta on an F.B.I. wanted poster from 1978, and the two confirmed it was the man they knew as Ramon Montoya.

His son, Mario Montoya, said his father told him that he was wanted and that his real last name was Pusateri, the affidavit said.

Mr. Archuleta appeared in federal court, and arrangements were being made for him to be taken into state custody in Colorado.

Mr. Cinquanta was a well-known Denver officer who chronicled his life in law enforcement in a book, “The Blue Chameleon: The Life Story of a Supercop,” but his career wasn’t without controversy.

In 1989, Mr. Cinquanta and another officer were placed on unpaid leave after being charged with 17 counts for “allegedly setting up crimes to entrap suspects,” The Denver Post reported.

Mr. Cinquanta, who pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree misconduct, said the charges were “garbage,” and called the accusations untrue.

“Those felonies never stuck,” he said on Sunday. “It was ridiculous. It really was.”

A short time later, Mr. Cinquanta retired and started his own private investigation firm, while also spending years hoping he’d catch the man who shot him.

“It was like unfinished business,” he said. “Cops and robbers. I felt it was worthy to try to get him, and I did.”


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