Pinalcchio

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

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.

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

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.

Three .45-caliber casings were another 18 yards behind and to the left of the four AK-47 cartridges, looking downhill from Puroll's perspective.

By May 3 (three days after the shooting), Puroll—reportedly a victim of attempted murder—obtained the counsel of a Casa Grande attorney who represents the Pinal County Deputies Association.

That morning, two investigators from Pinal County and two more from the DPS planned to return to the desert with Puroll for a walk-through of the shooting scene.

The attorney, Denis Fitzgibbons, laid ground rules:

Investigators would be limited to asking about where Puroll was standing when he was shot and when he was shooting, the directions he shot, and where the men were when he shot at them.

And the walk-through couldn't be audio- or videotaped.

Remarkably, both police agencies agreed to the attorney's stipulations.

Pinal County Sergeant Hausman and case agent Todd Nelson got their chances to speak with Puroll (with attorney Fitzgibbons present) later that day back at the main station.

Police detectives utilize various techniques when interviewing suspects, witnesses and victims. Some let the subject tell a story with little interruption before circling back to dissect the story detail by detail.

Puroll spoke deliberately during the 47-minute interview, sounding at times as if he were telling a mesmerizing war story around a campfire.

The two Pinal County detectives listened to their colleague for 26 minutes straight at one point, as the list of obvious follow-up questions mounted. But neither Hausman nor Nelson would challenge any part of the dramatic monologue.

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.")

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