Fired Pinal County sheriff's Deputy Louie Puroll's closed-door attempt to win his job back continues this morning down in Florence. As we wrote yesterday afternoon, Puroll has chosen to keep the prying eyes and ears of the public out of the Merit Commission hearing room, which means we can't tell you specifically what the deputy's attorney, Denis Fitzgibbons, is trying to sell to the three-person panel.
But we have a very good idea. You know the backstory by now:
It began with Puroll's dubious account of getting shot by dope smugglers in the Vekol Valley between Casa Grande and Gila Bend back in April 2011 (yes, the same desert area where authorities found the bodies of what Sheriff Paul Babeu strongly suggested were five drug-cartel members. Whoops, guess they were a missing Tempe family).
Then the yarn evolved, after Puroll told us some shocking things during a truck-stop interview later that summer, including about supposed attempts by "drug cartel" members to bribe him and how he had talked down a buddy of his who wanted to physically harm us after reading the original story, "Pinalcchio."
Puroll was fired after, among other things, he repeatedly lied to internal affairs investigators from his agency about the content of the truck stop interview and other matters.
But the onetime range deputy is appealing to get his job back, and from what we've been hearing privately from Pinal County officials, he's got a fighting chance to win the day.
Puroll's attorney, Fitzgibbons, suggested in a pretrial letter to the Merit Commission that the deputy simply was an unwitting pawn of a "political" anti-immigrant game between Sheriff Paul Babeu and media types (us) hellbent on embarrassing Babeu and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
"Since the Vekol Valley incident and since he was forced into the political realm of the media," Fitzgibbons wrote, "Deputy Puroll has been publicly ridiculed, criticized, and called a liar even though he did nothing wrong."
As for the truck-stop session with New Times, Fitzgibbons claimed, "Deputy Puroll did not consider this an official interview; rather, it was an opportunity for him to come face-to-face with one of his biggest critics ... when they were not talking about official matters, Deputy Puroll spoke to [us] in a joking and theatrical manner. Because this portion was merely an animated conversation between two great storytellers, Deputy Puroll did not violate policy."
The attorney goes on to say that the "light and spirited" conversation should not have led to the veteran officer's firing, and that Puroll's reinstatement with backpay is the righteous remedy.
The notion that Deputy Puroll did not consider our hours-long meeting an "official" interview, but rather a breezy chat between two world-class bullshitters just getting to know each other socially is a hoot.
We sat down with the guy on his turf, pulled out our tape recorder and stuck it on the table between us. We also opened our trusty "reporter's notebook," gave Puroll our standard opening spiel about this being an interview (as informal as our "technique" might seem to him as compared to, say, a press conference), and alerted him that anything he said could end up in print.
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Then we went about our business with the uniformed officer, who had pulled up to the restaurant in his marked vehicle.
Louie Puroll is an engaging guy with a non-stop patter -- in other words, a very quotable guy.
But, jeez, he shouldn't have lied to us about the alleged bribe offers from the "cartel" folks, and then to the investigators from his own agency.