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Pinalcchio: Renowned Forensics Experts Say a Pinal County Deputy's High-Profile Tale About Getting Shot After Encountering Drug Smugglers Doesn't Add Up 

Wednesday, Sep 22 2010

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Keen says the wounding shot may have been fired from the distance the deputy suggested but adds that the results of T-shirt testing and other investigative findings could change his mind.

"The difficulty is the inability to view the clothing in person or even see an official report of the clothing," Keen says.

"As regards the story of the shooting, it is improbable that persons carrying assault rifles would not know how to use them. And if they know how to shoot, why would they only strike with one bullet?"

It isn't the job of a forensic pathologist to speculate why Puroll might lie about the circumstances of his shooting. But analyzing possible reasons for why people behave is part of what Scottsdale's Steven Pitt does for a living.

Dr. Pitt has been a consultant to law enforcement in many high-profile investigations, including the JonBenét Ramsey murder, the Columbine High massacre, and the case of Franklin Brown, a former Phoenix cop who faked his own shooting ("A Shot in the Dark," March 2, 2002).

"You have an officer who was shot and you don't have a clue about what happened to the alleged perpetrators or their loads of marijuana," Pitt says. "That, in and of itself, raises a red flag as big as the [Arizona] Cardinals' stadium."

The psychiatrist suggests several reasons Puroll may have lied about what really happened:

• The deputy is a lone wolf who faked his own shooting and blamed illegal aliens to make a political statement and gain favor with his ambitious sheriff. ("That's pretty far out there," Pinal County Sergeant Hausman says.)

• He was involved in a rip-off of the smugglers that went bad. (Hausman: "Think about it. He's going to walk out in the middle of the desert and gun down six people who are carrying 80-pound packs? Even if you're taking steroids, you're going to hike the backpacks out two at a time? The obvious answer to, 'He's ripping off dope' is: not unless he's really, really stupid.")

• He was involved in an accidental shooting involving unknown parties and concocted a wild yarn to save face.

Pitt lists one more possibility — that Puroll was in cahoots from the start with his agency's upper echelon — but allows that the chances of that conspiracy theory holding up are small.

Deputy Puroll did not consent to an interview for this story.

Pinal County sheriff's spokesman Tim Gaffney says his agency's internal-affairs investigation is almost done and that Puroll wants to speak with the news media after his supervisors review the report and his attorney gives the go-ahead.

Sheriff Babeu tells New Times, "I honestly don't have any reservations about my deputy's account or his truthfulness."

Louie Puroll's path to his current position as a search-and-rescue deputy in Pinal County began in his native Michigan. It included tours of duty in the U.S. Army (he was a radio operator) and National Guard, and stints as a Texas cop and ranch foreman.

Puroll has been with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for 14 years, first as a detention officer and now as a deputy. He has been a range deputy for about a decade, and his code name is "SAR 1," short for search-and-rescue.

Portions of Puroll's personnel file, which the agency provided to New Times (missing was his employment history), include commendations after praise from citizens, and a few criticisms from his superiors.

In 2000, a supervisor wrote, "Deputy Puroll has experienced negative reactions from members of the public as a result of verbal usage not totally familiar to the local public."

The statement couldn't be vaguer, but it does get a point across.

Puroll's supervisor, Sergeant Brian Messing, has given him top grades for knowing how to rescue people — many illegal immigrants included — from potentially deadly situations in the unforgiving Pinal County desert that he knows so well.

But Messing also has given the deputy subpar ratings regarding how he interacts with other police agencies — and on how he occasionally has treated victims, witnesses, and suspects.

"Louie is a very individualistic guy," the sergeant tells New Times, "and he's an alpha male, like the rest of us out here. He's very calm and cool, but when he's in a situation, his nervousness comes out as crotchety, and he barks. But I've never had to worry about his actions in a tactical sense."

Bruce Peterson, a Mesa Community College professor, says he met Puroll in 2005 when the deputy led a team into the Superstition Mountains to rescue him from dehydration. The following year, Puroll joined the professor on a student expedition back into the area.

"Louie is an expert in the back country," Peterson says, "and he's as honest and honorable as the day is long. He just has a way of telling the truth in a very graphic manner, and he's a great storyteller."

Peterson wrote in a journal after the expedition, "Everyone stayed up listening to Louie's colorful stories of African goldmines, wilderness rescues, and border crossings and smuggling."

Louie Puroll first checked in with dispatch at 8:57 on the morning of April 30.

The deputy drove his unmarked Chevy Tahoe SUV to work, ate breakfast at a restaurant in Arizona City, and then headed in the early afternoon toward the Vekol Valley, about 20 miles west.

By Puroll's account, he drove his four-wheel-drive Tahoe south into the desert at Double Gates Road, at the border of Pinal and Maricopa counties. It is at milepost 151 on I-8.

His supervisor, Sergeant Messing, was off that day. But Puroll apparently didn't inform anyone else in authority of his plans to patrol an untamed area that his sheriff has likened to a war zone.

He negotiated the bumpy, curvy dirt road for about four miles until he reached the end, and then parked his vehicle. Then he walked north for about two miles before perching above a well-traveled dirt trail that leads to the interstate.

About The Author

Paul Rubin


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