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Wanted on nearly a dozen arrest warrants, Procopio Montoya Atkinson was about to fill the gas tank of his stolen Ford Escape when Belen police spotted him at a service station Dec. 20 and a high-speed chase ensued through the city.
Then Atkinson ran out of gas. And out of luck.
With the stolen SUV stalled at a major intersection on NM 47, Atkinson tried to break into a pickup in front of him at a red light. But the female driver, with her 14-year-old daughter inside, refused to open the locked door. So he moved on to a second truck in line at the intersection – a restored 1962 red Chevy driven by the woman’s husband.
Atkinson slipped into the unlocked passenger side of the truck’s cab, allegedly pointed a 9 mm pistol at the 62-year-old driver and demanded the vehicle, according to federal records unsealed this week.
That’s when the unidentified driver, a military veteran, tried to retrieve a .22-caliber Derringer revolver on his Western belt buckle but stopped short after seeing a gun pointed at his head.
The driver was exiting his truck when Atkinson allegedly shot him in the lower back and pushed him onto the street. Atkinson tried to drive away, but several police vehicles had arrived to block him in. Officers ran up, smashed the red truck’s driver’s side window and deployed a Taser to take Atkinson into custody, according to a federal criminal complaint.
The motorist who was shot survived. And Atkinson, already an eight-time convicted felon at the age of 23, is now facing federal carjacking and other charges, according to federal arrest and search warrant affidavits. In a post-arrest interview with the FBI, he said he was addicted to fentanyl pills and had “not intended for anyone to get hurt.”
It was yet another incident in which gun violence fueled by drug use erupted in broad daylight on New Mexico streets.
“It could have turned out a whole lot worse,” Belen Police Deputy Chief Jose Natividad told the Journal this week. “It’s unbelievable with what we’re seeing in today’s age. Are the streets safer now with him in custody? Yes. But for how long, is the real question.”
Just 25 miles south of Albuquerque, Belen is still considered part of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, Natividad said.
“And sometimes it’s easier to hide in these parts of town even though they (the criminals) are operating in Albuquerque.”
A suspect in two Belen-area robberies of local businesses in early December, Atkinson was also suspected of committing the Nov. 12 armed robbery of a dollar store on Montaño Road NW in Albuquerque.
The 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office reports about 127 more nonproperty crime cases compared to last year in Valencia County. They include domestic violence incidents, crimes against people and homicides, DA Chief Deputy Jessica Martinez said in an email.
Natividad said local law enforcement has “been dealing with Procopio for quite some time now.”
The FBI-led Violent Crime and Gang Task Force had been investigating Atkinson for several weeks.
And he was named in 11 arrest warrants for probation violations, assault, armed robbery, shooting at an occupied building and being a felon in possession of a firearm, the FBI criminal complaint states. At least one of the incidents occurred in Albuquerque, in addition to Valencia County.
Atkinson last summer absconded from a drug treatment program, violating the terms of his five-year probation imposed in January after he pleaded no contest to charges filed in 2019. The charges included aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, criminal damage to property, receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle and aggravated battery, court records show.
On Dec. 17, a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force set its sights on capturing Atkinson and set up surveillance at a Valencia County residence.
As officers were positioning their vehicles according to an arrest plan, they saw Atkinson walk outside, retrieve a set of binoculars from a vehicle, and briefly monitor their actions.
He then left the residence in his vehicle, as Marshals Service task force personnel followed, but then he stopped in the middle of the road, emerged from his vehicle and appeared to be waiting for law enforcement officers to approach, according to an FBI criminal complaint.
“The USMS task force supervisor directed the team to abort the surveillance because he feared Procopio Montoya Atkinson was armed and preparing to ambush task force personnel,” the complaint stated.
In the meantime, a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officer on the task force, wearing a vest with task force markings, was parked on the side of the road with the engine running when he saw Atkinson driving toward him. Atkinson then rolled down his window, pulled a gator mask from his neck to cover his mouth and face and raised a black handgun aimed at the officer’s truck, the complaint states.
Fearing he was about to be shot, with no time to position his rifle, the officer stepped on his truck’s accelerator and “propelled his vehicle” through an intersection in an attempt to put distance between himself and Atkinson. Soon after, two other deputy U.S. Marshals traveling in the same vehicle radioed that Atkinson was following them. Ultimately he fled at a high rate of speed and eluded arrest.
Last week, Natividad became part of the team to capture Atkinson.
He said he overheard the Dec. 20 chase on the police radio at his office and jumped into his unmarked police unit to assist. During the pursuit by Belen police, Atkinson allegedly ran stop signs, red lights and at times barreled into opposite lanes of travel as he raced eastbound through Belen.
Natividad, with the Belen Police Department since 2007, said for safety reasons he called off the chase by marked units and planned to follow Atkinson in his own unmarked police vehicle.
“I wanted to hopefully put his mind at ease so he can slow down and this way he doesn’t continue to be a danger to everybody else. However we didn’t get to that point.”
Atkinson flipped a U-turn but ran out of gas at the intersection of NM 47 and East River Road. Natividad said his vehicle ended up being among the police units Atkinson rammed in his last-ditch effort to flee in the red Chevy truck.
Atkinson’s attorney representing him in the state cases declined to comment Wednesday.
While being questioned after his arrest Dec. 20, Atkinson recognized a Valencia County sheriff’s officer he previously tried to run over in 2019 – an incident that led to his charge of aggravated assault on a police officer, the complaint states. Atkinson then apologized to the officer.
Atkinson also told an FBI agent he believed his addiction to fentanyl “caused him to act in regrettable ways.” Atkinson told the agent “he had read the Bible and knew right from wrong” and that “he came from a good family and could not believe the situation he was in.” He said he only wanted to escape and contended he shot the military veteran because he feared he would be shot.
Atkinson is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center after being charged with state and federal offenses that include carjacking, and assaulting, resisting or impeding a federal officer.
Natividad said police pursuits of violent offenders and carjackings are usually “the type of stuff you see on TV, right? But we are living it right here, in front of our own eyes.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story included an incorrect cutline on the mugshot of the suspect. The post has been corrected.