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

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Puroll told of following smugglers carrying "large, rectangular backpacks, probably 50 to 60 pounds each. I knew roughly where they were going — that trail goes one place — up the mountain and over and down straight to the truck stop."

Puroll described the backpackers as "big strong men. They weren't the typical UDA [undocumented aliens], much stronger than the average illegal."

The deputy said he was "hoping to interrupt them on the other side of the mountain near the truck stop, or at least where they stashed the dope. At this point, I did not intend to confront anybody or try to arrest anybody, or anything. I was way outnumbered."

Puroll said he stayed back as the smugglers marched over a ridge and disappeared from sight:

"I was telling myself that if something was going to happen, these people would be up close, and there would be more than one of them. I did not know that anybody was armed . . . but I was out there by myself. There was more of them then there was of me."

Puroll said he then decided to step over the rise, after he reset his M-16 rifle to fully automatic, turning it into a machine gun.

"I knew they had to be up there somewhere, I didn't know just where," he said. "I didn't see anybody, didn't hear anybody. So I checked my phone, and I had a phone signal. "

He said his sergeant, Messing, then called him. It was 4:04 p.m.

"Dispatch evidently had advised him what was going on, and he was headed my way, and he was calling me to find out what I was doing. And the first thing Brian says, 'Where are you?'

"And as he said that, a man stood up in front of me about 25 yards away. I had my cell phone in my right hand and my GPS in my left hand. I had just read my GPS location to the dispatcher, and I still had everything in my hand, and that guy stood up in front of me.

(Puroll didn't give his new GPS location until after the "I've been hit!" call. That location was where he would soon leave his Glock and the GPS unit behind, and where he told the investigators during his May 3 walk-through that he had been standing.)

"Without a moment's hesitation, without a heartbeat, he brought the weapon up to waist level and began firing what looked to me to be a fully stocked AK-47," Puroll said of the alleged smuggler. "He was firing from the hip. I saw the first round go off, a micro-flash from what I believe was the first round, and I felt the impact. "

(GPS coordinates show that Puroll was about 14 feet above where he said the first shooter was, a significant detail for the forensic pathologists who analyzed the gunshot-wound photos. "It's almost a level shot if you think about it," Dr. Vincent Di Maio says. "It definitely would be difficult for a shot coming distinctly uphill like that to cross his body as it did.")

Puroll continued, "When I saw him, I had dropped my cell phone and my GPS to the ground and grabbed my rifle, which was slung in front of me, and began to bring it up. Before I could get it up to shoot, his first round struck me in the side. I felt it. It felt like being popped with a wet towel . . . I knew I'd been hit, and I knew if I went down or stopped shooting there was a good chance I was gonna be killed."

Puroll said he fired at his assailant and saw him fall to the ground: "He immediately went out of my sight. I never saw him again . . . No one spoke a word."

The deputy said, "Before I could do anything else, I started taking fire from my right; a rifle and a pistol began firing off to my right, as close or closer to me than [the first shooter] was. Everything occurred within a 25- to 30-yard circle, at most."

Puroll said he dropped to the ground, as more rounds whizzed over his head. He said he emptied his rifle while he was sitting there and then laid that weapon on the ground and drew his pistol.

(Detective Nelson speculates that the smugglers may have had "brass catchers" on the end of their AK-47s to snare the used shell casings, which would keep their DNA from discovery — and would account for the paucity of AK-47 shell casings. But Luke Haag, technical director of the Phoenix Police Department's crime lab for 17 years before retiring, tells New Times, "I have yet to be aware of a crime scene in my 45 years in the business in which a brass catcher was used. And getting DNA off fired cartridges is virtually impossible. It sounds like . . . this is scrambling for an explanation.")

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin