Arizona cop's tale of a Latino drug smuggler shooting him doesn't add up

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The timing of the desert shooting couldn't have been better for Sheriff Babeu — "ironic," one of his lieutenants says, tongue not in cheek.

He soon emerged nationally as a more articulate, telegenic, and younger version of Maricopa County's blustery Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Babeu became a Fox News regular, eager to discuss the perils of a porous border and an inadequate federal response to illegal immigration.

That had been Babeu's agenda well before Louie Puroll got into the mix, and it had won him a starring role last spring in U.S. Senator John McCain's "You're one of us" campaign advertisement.

Now, the sheriff was able to add a heroic deputy to his increasingly visible storyline.

Babeu continues to claim that the "Mexican drug cartels" are running rampant in sections of his sprawling 5,400-square-mile jurisdiction, including the Vekol Valley.

"We still are outgunned, we are outmanned, and we don't have the resources yet to fight this," he tells New Times.

Shortly after the Puroll incident, the sheriff had to weather a media squall that began with a blog post on in which police officers questioned the deputy's account ("Sheriff's Deputy Shooting... Has Some Local Cops Scratching Their Heads," May 3).

Babeu held a press conference on May 4 in Casa Grande. His presentation included close-up photos of Puroll's gunshot wound and selected audio snippets of his communications with 911 dispatchers after the incident.

"Tell my wife I love her," the deputy said in one sound bite that would be replayed repeatedly on national news shows.

A dispatch supervisor told the news media, "You can hear bullets ricochet near the phone," a reference to that seven-shot burst of gunfire at the start of Puroll's "I've been hit!" call.

She was suggesting that the bullets were fired at the deputy moments before he spoke up during the 911 call.

(However, many in law enforcement and others who have heard the tape say they are reasonably certain that Puroll fired those shots, not his supposed attackers.)

To bolster his deputy's credibility, Sheriff Babeu displayed infrared photos taken weeks earlier in the Vekol Valley showing what he called "squad-size elements using paramilitary tactics while escorting drug smugglers across the desert."

But the sheriff conceded that some information released by his agency in the hours after the incident was inaccurate:

• That Puroll faced at least 30 rounds of gunfire during the shoot-out. He didn't.

• That more than one helicopter had come under fire in the desert before Puroll was rescued. None had.

• That the smugglers left behind "bales" of marijuana as they fled. Authorities confiscated no contraband.

"We are in the business of facts and what really happened," Babeu told reporters. "This is a really big case."

The headline in the next day's Arizona Republic read: "Sheriff: Deputy's Shooting Not a Hoax."

A few weeks later, Babeu awarded Louis Puroll his agency's Purple Heart medal before an Arizona Diamondbacks game in downtown Phoenix. McCain was there to shake the deputy's hand.

Little has been written or aired about Louie Puroll since the sheriff's press conference.

But New Times has continued to examine the case, utilizing some of the best forensic minds in the country to assist in a four-month investigation.

The newspaper also analyzed reports filed by the DPS (which investigated the "crime scene") and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

In the end, key aspects of Puroll's account to authorities, plus an analysis of the reported crime scene (including photos of the deputy's gunshot wound), lead to this troubling conclusion:

The odds that Louie Puroll is telling the truth about what happened to him on April 30 are slim.

"This is not a he-said, she-said case," says Tucson private investigator Weaver Barkman, a retired homicide sergeant for the Pima County Sheriff's Office who analyzed the Puroll case at the request of New Times. "This is about what the evidence says."

In Barkman's view, the evidence says, "Deputy Puroll's claims and versions are not supported by the physical, anecdotal, and behavioral evidence that I have reviewed. Several claims are in direct conflict with the physical evidence. There is, in my view, insufficient evidence to establish probable cause that on the afternoon of Friday, April 30, 2010, [no] person or persons, other than Deputy Puroll, were present at or in the immediate vicinity of this shooting scene."

And if the deputy is telling the truth, says Scottsdale forensic psychiatrist Steven Pitt, "You have a stunningly inept multi-jurisdictional response [on April 30] in addition to dealing with some really intelligent, athletic, and damned lucky smugglers."

Add to that a criminal investigation by Pinal County sheriff's detectives that was seemingly designed solely to clear their colleague Puroll.

"Our deputy says this happened, and there's evidence out there to support that it happened," Sergeant Hausman insists. "The facts are the facts."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin