The best thing that happened to Louie Puroll and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office yesterday was the standoff out at the Chandler Mall, a made-for-TV incident that put the deputy's firing deep into second place, news-wise.
Still, by now everyone who follows local news knows Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu fired the range deputy, a turn that not even a fanciful scriptwriter could have conjured.
Babeu's public information officer Tim Gaffney issued a press release that said Puroll's termination stemmed from statements he made to me during interviews for our November 23 story "Whitewash."
That piece was a follow-up to "Pinalcchio," our earlier examination of the the deputy's account of allegedly being shot by drug smugglers last April out in the desert between Casa Grande and Gila Bend.
Puroll told me that members of the infamous Mexican drug cartels had attempted to bribe him as he sat in a truck-stop restaurant between Tucson and Phoenix. Just for the record, he sounded to me as serious as the proverbial heart attack when he said it.
The (ex-)deputy also claimed that a buddy of his had offered to murder me because of my less-than-favorable analysis of his account of the celebrated Vekol Valley shooting.
When I asked Puroll why in the hell he would be telling me something like that, he told me that he thought I'd just like to know.
I gave Puroll many opportunities in the days after he made that statement to amend or flat-out retract it. But he chose not to, instead saying that his pal "probably" hadn't been serious about the apparently off-the-cuff offer to commit homicide.
According to the PCSO press release, Professional Standards Bureau investigators sustained each of the 10 allegations against Puroll, including that the deputy had been "untruthful."
We assume that he lied to them during his recent interview, i.e. lying to a reporter may be stupid, but it isn't necessarily against the rules and regs of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
The release noted that Puroll plans to contest his termination, and that under Arizona law, the agency is barred from releasing the internal-affairs report authored by Detective Rob Evans until appeals are exhausted.
Last April, Puroll said he was shot during an alleged clash in the Vekol Valley, a popular drug and people-smuggling corridor in the desert between Casa Grande and Gila Bend.
It happened just one week after Governor Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070--the anti-illegal immigrant legislation--into law.
The deputy became a folk hero to many, both in Arizona and nationally, a kind of symbol of everything that's wrong about the federal government's approach to policing the border (even if the clash occurred about 85 miles north of the line).
His softly spoken words to police dispatchers shortly after he called in to say he'd been shot -- "Tell my wife I love her" -- endeared him to many, including his sheriff, whose national profile increased dramatically in the aftermath.
Our take on the celebrated shootout poked gaping holes in Louie Puroll's story, and of the less-than-meticulous criminal investigation by his PCSO that followed it.
Here is the original story, "Pinalcchio," followed here by "Whitewash," the piece that got former Deputy Puroll into such a pickle.
Here is what the Arizona Republic's veteran scribe Dennis Wagner wrote about the Puroll firing on the paper's front page today.
Finally, here is what the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson had to say:
I enjoyed interviewing Louie Puroll -- he's extremely entertaining -- and I still do believe some of the things he told me.
For example, I suspect that he did rescue untold numbers of folks (legal residents of the U.S. and illegal) out in the desert during his long stint as a range deputy.
But, man, can that guy tell a whopper!
If, as Puroll apparently told the internal affairs investigators, he had been BS-ing me about meeting up with the drug cartel people and about a friend's offer to do me in, he's as good at telling whoppers as anyone I've run up against in 30-plus years of inflicting journalism.
That, of course, leads us back to the Vekol Valley, and Puroll's troubling account of being shot by those drug smugglers on that late afternoon last year.
I told Puroll this in one of our talks:
"Deputy, I wasn't out there that day and so I can't say that I know what happened for sure. But, with all due respect, I know it didn't go down the way you say it did. You know it and I know it."
Puroll, who was nothing short of courteous (in his own tough-guy way) during our time together, stared across the table at me, a bit wide-eyed.
"No, you weren't there, mister," he replied.
Here's my guess, and it's just a guess:
Louie Puroll will claim that psychological stresses resulting from the desert "shooting" caused him to lie to me and (apparently) to investigators.
I think he will seek a full medical retirement and will be happy to kick back with his animals and wife at home down in Oracle.
There, he will regale his pals with great stories about whatever wild yarns pop into his very interesting head.
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