Renowned forensics experts say a Pinal County, Arizona, deputy's high-profile tale about getting shot after encountering drug smugglers doesn't add up

But the equally esteemed Dr. Vincent Di Maio—author of the textbooks Handbook of Forensic Pathology and Gunshot Wounds and retired chief medical examiner of San Antonio's Bexar County—says he isn't sure how far away the shot was fired, largely because Pinal County's investigation was inadequate.

Di Maio says he is "very suspicious" of the reddish discoloration visible around Puroll's wound. Such discoloration often is present with contact wounds and is caused by carbon monoxide-laden gases that emanate from firearms during discharge.

But, the doctor adds, "It's all going to hinge from the shirt as to whether it's a contact wound or not."

Renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden and other experts refute Puroll's account of the shooting:  "I don't see what the problem is in calling this a close-contact wound."
Renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden and other experts refute Puroll's account of the shooting: "I don't see what the problem is in calling this a close-contact wound."
Pinal County authorities declined to send Puroll's bloody T-shirt to a state crime lab for testing.
Pinal County authorities declined to send Puroll's bloody T-shirt to a state crime lab for testing.


He is referring to Puroll's bloody T-shirt and what he suspected would have been testing for telltale gunpowder, soot and other residue.

Pinal County's investigators, however, chose not to send the shirt to the DPS's crime lab for analysis.

"I know you want to see if there's stippling [gunpowder patterns] on it to eliminate or prove it was a close-range shot, and that's legitimate," Hausman responds to the testing question. "Yes, there will be gunpowder on there, but it will be extremely minimal because it comes from a distant shot. In my heart and mind, I believe Louie Puroll's story, and . . . I don't see the need for testing because we don't have a suspect."

Phil Keen, Maricopa County's former chief medical examiner, says he doesn't necessarily agree with the "contact wound" opinions rendered by Baden and Spitz.

Keen says the wounding shot may have been fired from the distance the deputy suggested, but he adds that the results of T-shirt testing and other investigative findings could change his mind.

"The difficulty is the inability to view the clothing in person or even see an official report of the clothing," Keen says. "As regards the story of the shooting, it is improbable that persons carrying assault rifles would not know how to use them. And if they know how to shoot, why would they only strike with one bullet?"

It isn't the job of a forensic pathologist to speculate why Puroll might lie about the circumstances of his shooting. But analyzing possible reasons for why people behave is part of what Scottsdale's Steven Pitt does for a living.

Dr. Pitt has been a consultant to law enforcement in many high-profile investigations, including the JonBenét Ramsey murder, the Columbine High massacre and the case of Franklin Brown, a former Phoenix cop who faked his own shooting ("A Shot In the Dark," March 2, 2002).

"You have an officer who was shot, and you don't have a clue about what happened to the alleged perpetrators or their loads of marijuana," Pitt says. "That, in and of itself, raises a red flag as big as the [Arizona] Cardinals' stadium."

The psychiatrist suggests several reasons Puroll may have lied about what really happened:

• The deputy is a lone wolf who faked his own shooting and blamed illegal aliens to make a political statement and gain favor with his ambitious sheriff. ("That's pretty far out there," Pinal County Sergeant Hausman says.)

• He was involved in a rip-off of the smugglers that went bad. (Hausman responds, "Think about it: He's going to walk out in the middle of the desert and gun down six people who are carrying 80-pound packs? Even if you're taking steroids, you're going to hike the backpacks out two at a time? The obvious answer to 'He's ripping off dope' is: not unless he's really, really stupid.")

• He was involved in an accidental shooting involving unknown parties and concocted a wild yarn to save face.

Pitt lists one more possibility—that Puroll was in cahoots from the start with his agency's upper echelon—but he allows that the chances of that conspiracy theory holding up are small.

Puroll did not consent to an interview for this story.

Pinal County sheriff's spokesman Tim Gaffney says his agency's internal-affairs investigation is almost done and that Puroll wants to speak with the news media after his supervisors review the report and his attorney gives the go-ahead.

"I honestly don't have any reservations about my deputy's account or his truthfulness," Babeu says.

Puroll's path to his current position as a search-and-rescue deputy in Pinal County began in his native Michigan. It included tours of duty in the U.S. Army (he was a radio operator) and National Guard, as well as stints as a Texas cop and ranch foreman.

Puroll has been with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for 14 years, first as a detention officer and now as a deputy. He has been a range deputy for about a decade, and his code name is "SAR 1," short for search-and-rescue.

Portions of Puroll's personnel file, which the agency provided to the Phoenix New Times (missing was his employment history), include commendations after praise from citizens and a few criticisms from his superiors.

In 2000, a supervisor wrote, "Deputy Puroll has experienced negative reactions from members of the public as a result of verbal usage not totally familiar to the local public."

The statement couldn't be vaguer, but it does get a point across.

Puroll's supervisor, Sergeant Brian Messing, has given him top grades for knowing how to rescue people—many illegal immigrants included—from potentially deadly situations in the unforgiving Pinal County desert that he knows so well.

« Previous Page
Next Page »