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

If the smugglers had, instead, continued to walk north after shooting Puroll, it would have taken them about 20 minutes on foot to get to a different dirt road drivable by vehicle. (The Phoenix New Times walked from this road to the scene in about 20 minutes, not toting a heavy backpack.)

Then it would have taken them another 20 minutes to get to the rear of the Vija Truck Stop at I-8 and State Route 347—about 40 minutes in all.

Certainly, the situation initially was fluid. "There were so many cops it was like an FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] convention out there," Hausman recalls.

Shooting site
Jamie Peachey
Shooting site
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu became a national media darling after Deputy Louie Puroll (right) said he was shot in the desert by drug smugglers bearing AK-47 rifles
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu became a national media darling after Deputy Louie Puroll (right) said he was shot in the desert by drug smugglers bearing AK-47 rifles


But what was the likelihood of six smugglers (with at least two would-be cop killers in the bunch) slithering away from the police in broad daylight with their cache of marijuana?

"We learned a lot from the situation," Babeu says, "about how to be better prepared and react and to marshal our forces so that bad guys aren't able to escape like these guys did. It was very unfortunate that they got away."

By about 5 p.m., the Pinal County Sheriff's Office set up a makeshift command post just off I-8 near Double Gates Road.

Puroll was on his cell phone almost constantly until the helicopter picked him up, conversing with Messing several times.

"He told me he couldn't look at the wound," Messing recalls. "I asked him if it was gushing blood, and he said it wasn't."

Puroll was somewhere south of the shooting site, but apparently some distance from where he had parked his Tahoe hours earlier.

"Getting shot ain't no fun at all," he told a dispatcher at one point.

A few minutes later, Puroll blurted, "I'm gonna go. I'm gonna get busy here in just a minute."

The dispatcher asked him what was going on.

"The guys with the rifles are coming back. I'm gonna try to make it back to my truck. Bye."

The deputy then hung up.

The DPS helicopter pilot lifted Puroll out of the desert at about 5:20 and took him to the command post.

Puroll spoke there with Babeu before an ambulance took him to the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center for treatment.

Pinal County deputies found the apparent shooting site near Antelope Peak before nightfall.

It was familiar to the deputies who work search-and-rescue, a final resting stop for untold undocumented immigrants before they walk the last few miles to I-8 on their way to Phoenix.

"It's a natural bottleneck," Puroll said later, "and it's the only practical way for a person to walk, unless you just want to go straight across country over mountains."

The site is an environmental disaster, with hundreds of plastic water bottles, ratty old backpacks, tattered clothing, the remnants of Mexican pharmaceuticals, blankets and rolls of toilet paper.

The officers eyed lots of ammunition, both expended and unexpended, in the "bottleneck," including dozens of shell casings clustered near the top of the ridge.

They also saw a Glock handgun near the spent casings.

It was Puroll's—he had left it behind.

The deputies retreated to the command center by helicopter before it got too dark.

Babeu and his top staff (accompanied by a senior prosecutor from the Pinal County Attorney's Office) decided to ask the DPS to process the scene the next morning. Pinal County would keep the officer-involved shooting and internal-affairs investigations in-house.

Sheriff's personnel photographed Puroll's gunshot wound at the hospital. The photos later served as the basis for the expert opinions of the pathologists contacted by the Phoenix New Times.

The police also took photos of Puroll's bloody T-shirt and of several other evidentiary items, including the deputy's firearms.

DPS investigators wanted to speak with the deputy that night, but Puroll had been released from the hospital by the time a detective got there.

DPS and Pinal County investigators returned to the desert shooting site by helicopter the next morning. The state cops canvassed the clutter, taking hundreds of photographs and noting the GPS coordinates of the evidence they collected.

They recovered the Glock and, a few feet from it, the GPS unit and other items belonging to the deputy.

Forty-six shell casings from Puroll's two guns—the Glock and the M-16—were nearby.

The presence of the casings suggested that he had discharged his weapons from the GPS location he shouted out at the start of his "I've been hit!" call.

The investigators also found nine expended shell casings that hadn't been fired from Puroll's two guns in the "crime scene."

Six of the casings came from AK-47 rifles (though it hasn't been determined whether they were from the same gun), and three came from a .45-caliber handgun.

Two of the AK-47 cartridges were within a few feet of the casings from Puroll's guns, but they were badly rusted and practically embedded into the ground.

The other four AK-47 casings appeared newer.

According to GPS calculations, they were close to one another, about 35 yards downhill from the deputy's Glock.

But they were not in the general area where the deputy claimed he had been fired upon by the first shooter.

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