Lawyered Up: A Crime-Scene Report Shows a Pinal County Sheriff's Deputy Who Claimed to be Shot by Mexican Drug Smugglers Didn't Cooperate Fully With a State Police Probe

It's late Saturday afternoon, June 5, and the roof at Chase Field is closed for the Diamondbacks' game against the Colorado Rockies.

John McCain steps out of the Diamondbacks dugout onto the diamond.

The famed U.S. senator's mission, along with that of a new friend of his named Paul Babeu — the increasingly nationally visible sheriff of Pinal County — is to present awards to six law enforcement officers from central Arizona.

A private corporation and a nonprofit foundation have supplied tickets to 1,600 employees of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office and their families.

The star of the pre-game festivities, the recipient who gets the loudest ovation, is a middle-aged man wearing eyeglasses and standing at attention in a crisp PCSO uniform.

His name is Louie Puroll, and he is about to win his agency's Purple Heart:

"On April 30, 2010," the announcer reads over the public-address system, "Deputy Puroll was patrolling in the Vekol Valley when he spotted several individuals transporting illegal drugs through the desert area."

"Shortly thereafter, the individuals who opened fire with AK-47-type weapons ambushed him. The suspects and Deputy Puroll fired multiple rounds. Ultimately, a bullet struck Deputy Puroll, above his kidney. Deputy Puroll has since recovered from his injury and has returned to full duty."

It seems like a happy ending for the 53-year-old deputy, who allegedly escaped serious injury or death during the gun battle.

The shootout, which captured the nation's attention, happened about three miles south of Interstate 8 near milepost 147.

The use of "allegedly" in connection with the incident — lone deputy fights off band of murderous bad guys in broad daylight and lives to see another day with nothing more than a superficial wound — seems appropriate in light of an Arizona Department of Public Safety crime-scene report obtained by New Times.

DPS Sergeant Jennifer Pinnow also uses the word in the report, noting that she assisted in "locating casings in the area where the deputy allegedly fired his rifle and handgun."

The DPS report doesn't suggest that Deputy Puroll staged the episode or that the 14-year PCSO veteran was involved in a nefarious scheme gone awry, perhaps not unlike that in which James Wren — a young Phoenix cop charged last week with stealing about $40,000 from dope dealers while on duty — has admitted involvement ("Phoenix Police Officer Charged With Shakin' Down Drug Dealers," Valley Fever blog, June 11).

Written by lead scene agent Detective Jeff Brown, the DPS report says, "All conclusions relative to this criminal investigation will be formulated by the Pinal County Attorney's Office upon review of the criminal case."

The DPS report raises more questions than it provides answers about an incident that escalated an already-volatile mood in Arizona spawned by the contentious anti-illegal immigrant Senate Bill 1070 and the late-March shooting murder — perhaps by an undocumented alien — of Cochise County cattle rancher Rob Krentz ("Cowboy Down," June 8).

For starters, Puroll did not fully cooperate with DPS detectives as they performed their crime-scene duties at the request of the PCSO.

Instead, in police parlance, the deputy "lawyered up" and followed the advice of his union (AZCOPS) attorney Denis Fitzgibbons by providing the DPS few specifics about what exactly happened out there.

The lack of cooperation by Puroll has veteran local police detectives (active and retired) wondering why.

"I don't care what the attorney recommended," says one of the detectives who read the report. "Why in the world would the deputy decline to be video- or audio-taped during his [May 3] walk-through at the crime scene? You'd think he would have wanted to lay it all out because he's the alleged victim. I think that the DPS did a good job with what [it] had to work with, but [it] might have thought about ending [its] involvement after the deputy shut down on them."

But the county agency chose to conduct all interviews — including those of more than a dozen undocumented aliens detained in the Pinal County desert within a day or so of the incident. (All those aliens have been deported, according to office spokeswoman Lieutenant Tamatha Villar.) The Sheriff's Office has just about completed its separate criminal and internal-affairs probes of the incident, Villar says, and findings are expected to be released soon.

"I do not agree that the DPS report suggests he did not cooperate," she tells New Times. "It is standard in any officer-involved shooting for the officer to be provided an opportunity to work and consult with legal counsel."

Whether Puroll submitted to questioning by criminal investigators from his own agency remains uncertain.

By law, however, the deputy had to speak with the sheriff's investigators doing the standard internal-affairs probe into the police-involved shooting.

This case looms large for Sheriff Babeu, who popped up seemingly out of nowhere next to McCain in the senator's memorable "Complete the danged fence!" campaign ad shot at the border.

Babeu appeared on numerous national TV shows after his deputy's alleged desert clash.

"This is a huge case," the sheriff said at a press conference in early May after a New Times Valley Fever blog post noted that area police detectives had contacted the paper to question aspects of Puroll's account ("Pinal Deputy Shooting Has Local Cops Scratching Their Heads," May 3).

"Multiple suspects fired on and tried to kill and actually shot one of our deputies," Babeu said. "We're in the business of facts."

Babeu then conceded that his agency had made basic factual mistakes in announcing details of the ongoing case — including its widely reported, but inaccurate, account of gunfire directed at helicopters from the ground during the hour-long desert search for Deputy Puroll.

The DPS also is concerned with the "business of facts." But the agency's crime-scene investigators were forced to regroup after they agreed not to make audio or video recordings of their walk-through of the scene with Deputy Puroll.

For certain, it was a challenging crime scene in an isolated desert locale, in a case in which the alleged suspects evaded capture and their "bales" of marijuana were never confiscated.

Some of the prime DPS findings, and other observations:

• DPS detectives found Deputy Puroll's fully loaded sidearm, a Glock pistol, at the scene. That suggests the deputy reloaded the Glock there after discharging 16 shots during the "gun battle," and then somehow left it behind as he left the area.

• A DPS evidence-recovery log shows that state detectives confiscated 29 expended shell casings from Puroll's M-16, A1 assault rifle at the scene (a magazine holds 30 bullets), and 16 shell casings from his Glock.

• The detectives collected six shell casings fired by an AK-47 assault rifle — the weapon Puroll told Sheriff Babeu that his assailants had used when ambushing him. This included four casings from the weapon's 7.62 x 39mm ammunition in one area within the perimeter, and two similar casings (same bullet type, but apparently from a different batch of ammo) in another.

• The DPS found three bullet casings from a .45-caliber handgun at the scene, as well as several unfired AK-47 magazines.

• The nine expended casings at the scene that weren't Puroll's apparently accounted for all shots that could have been fired at the deputy during the alleged gunfight. The casings suggest that it was not the wild shootout depicted by Sheriff Babeu and others. Babeu said at a press conference in early May that a full-blown firefight lasted "a minute or less," with at least two assailants continuing to fire at Puroll for about 20 minutes after the initial salvo.

• Several unfired AK-47 bullet magazines also were found within the scene, as well as food, clothing, water, a cell phone, and other items suggesting that it was a camp for undocumented aliens.

• Deputy Puroll parked his patrol vehicle about a mile from where he said the main shootout happened and set off into the desert on foot, allegedly tracking the group of five or six men. According to Sheriff Babeu, Puroll "clearly" saw that the men were lugging backpacks of marijuana — the word "bales" was used at the sheriff's press conference. But no pot was confiscated in connection with the incident, nor has anyone been arrested in the case, despite the presence of more than 200 police officers representing 15 agencies that responded after the "shootout."

• Babeu told the media in early May that Puroll checked in with a dispatcher and a supervisor just "10 minutes" before the desert shootout began. Lieutenant Villar adds that the deputy "had cell phone to cell phone contact with his immediate supervisor from the point when he first started tracking the individuals. The supervisor was en route to the scene with additional units when the shooting occurred."

• Babeu said two of the dope smugglers ambushed the officer, firing at him with AK-47s from different angles — one in front of him and the other from the side. Somehow, only one bullet grazed the deputy just above his left kidney. (The damage done by an AK-47 normally is instant and massive. Lieutenant Villar says Puroll was not wearing his bulletproof vest when he tracked the group deep into the desert.)

Another local law enforcement officer who oversaw police-involved shootings as a supervisor for about a decade, says this:

"I obviously can't tell you what happened out there. But I don't think that deputy is telling the whole story, not even close."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin