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

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During the firefight, Puroll said, he took a fresh M-16 ammunition magazine out of his pocket with his left hand and reloaded the rifle:

"At this time, my pistol went empty. I laid it on the ground and picked my rifle back up . . . Everybody quit shooting at this point."

Puroll said he took the opportunity to reload his Glock, "and I thought I put the pistol back in the holster. I picked up my rifle. I picked up the cell phone that was on the ground and put it in my shirt pocket. Grabbed my pack — my pack has water in it and my survival gear. I knew I had to get out of there before they could pinpoint just where I was."

The deputy's statement about the backpack raises questions about how, when, where, and, specifically, why Deputy Puroll took it off his back.

Was he carrying it for some reason when he crested the hill (along with his phone and possibly his GPS unit)? Says Weaver Barkman, the former homicide detective, "Carrying a pack into a situation like he has described is out of the realm of reality. And the likelihood of him taking off when he's being fired at and he's trying to save his life? Improbable."

Asked about the backpack, which later showed no sign of damage from gunfire, Sergeant Hausman says, "I honestly don't know how to answer that."

Puroll described how shots continued to sail over his head as he retreated about 50 yards and moved off the dirt trail.

It was only then, the deputy insisted, that he made his "I've been hit!" call to dispatch.

(Cell phone records and dispatch recordings refute that. They show that Puroll called at 4:04 p.m. from the spot where he emptied his M-16 and Glock. The spot is precisely where he dropped the Glock and the GPS unit, not more than 50 yards back.)

Shortly before the helicopter picked him up, Puroll recalled, he heard in the distance "four distinct pistol shots. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And I remember thinking, 'Gunmen are shooting the guys carrying the backpacks. They don't want anybody to identify them.'

"That just flashed in my head. Or the guy that I had shot was wounded bad, and he was a liability and a burden to them."

Investigators found no signs of blood at the shooting scene and recovered no bodies from the area.

Sergeant Hausman had but one question of the deputy at the end of the interview — about the first shooter's intent.

"He was intending to kill me," Puroll replied.

Sergeant Brian Messing is standing on a dirt road in the Vekol Valley, a few yards from where Deputy Puroll parked his SUV on April 30.

At dawn, Messing and a county SWAT team, along with case investigators Hausman and Nelson, had led a New Times reporter to the shooting site near Antelope Peak.

Everyone but the sergeant and the reporter left the area after returning to the Vija Truck Stop a few hours later.

Messing tries to explain himself and his role in this complicated and significant case.

"I wonder," he says, "did [the alleged smugglers] hear me on the phone when I was speaking with Louie? Did I screw up? It kind of eats you up."

The sergeant says he did not write a police report of his role as a possible "ear-witness" to the shooting because no one asked him to. And he notes that criminal investigators didn't interview him until almost three months after the incident.

"Listen," he says to New Times, "I believe Louie, but I understand why you're here. Normally, when smugglers see an officer, they're gonna drop the dope and run, but things have been changing out here. They lose the dope, they can get killed. I know it sounds like political hype that people get on, but this area's gotten that bad."

It has gotten that bad.

In early June, a drug smuggler called 911 after he and a friend were shot in the Vekol Valley.

The caller told a dispatcher in Spanish that he had been shot "right here where they shot the sheriff," a comment that Babeu says, in a sense, corroborates Puroll's tale.

Messing reiterates that Puroll has had "enough life experience, military and law enforcement experience to have handled this. Louie takes care of himself. If there's a dirty cop, get him. But you gotta know this guy."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin