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

"Listen," he says, "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.

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

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."

Puroll, he says, is back on the job, though Babeu doesn't allow range deputies on solo patrols anymore.

"He's out there, stubborn as ever, doing his thing," Messing says of the deputy. "That's just Louie."

As he drives back toward I-8 and civilization, Messing continues, "My own opinion is that Louie is clean . . . but I don't have all the answers. Maybe there are people out there who do."

Baden, Spitz and Di Maio independently examined the photos taken of Puroll's gunshot wound before replying to the Phoenix New Times.

"There is black powder along the edges of the [wound], a furrow along the edges," says Baden, who also is the chief forensics consultant to Fox News and, thereby, one of the more visible forensic pathologists in the nation. "You just don't see that in distance wounds. Also, the pink discoloration around the outside of the wound is from carbon monoxide that always shows up when a weapon is fired at close range."

He adds, "If someone wants to cause a grazing wound, they can easily do that without fear of sustaining a more serious injury than this individual sustained."

Di Maio says, "That looks to be a contact wound. It's got all that suspicious red color, which is carbon monoxide and usually means contact, and [there is] all that black stuff around it, which gets you thinking it probably is soot from the contact wound."

But, he says, he's not comfortable with rendering a definitive opinion.

"The area around this superficial wound should be seared—the bullet came through at 1,400 degrees, you know—but I don't see any soot or searing. It's real complicated. Soot could have been wiped away from the wound, and we don't know exactly at what point in treatment [of the injury] that the photos were taken. But I think that this case [would] be called on the T-shirt, not on the wound."

Luke Haag, president of Carefree-based Forensic Science Services and author of Shooting Incident Reconstruction, says, "If there are issues about direction and distance, and the first thing that bullet hit was clothing, the clothing will win the day for somebody. That shirt would tell you whether it's contact, near-contact or a distance shot."

Haag adds, "Pinal County's not submitting that T-shirt for testing is definitely troublesome. Sometimes, the police don't wear the white hats. I hope that's not the case here."

Retired homicide cop Weaver Barkman says Puroll's story doesn't work on a number of levels. "Were the deputy not a law-enforcement officer," he says, "the conflicting evidence would likely result in a finding that his claims were fabricated and expose him to criminal and civil action."

Dr. Pitt, the forensic shrink, also remains unconvinced. "This case has a divide the size of the Grand Canyon between the behavioral evidence and the physical evidence. Until people are going to be able to explain that divide, Deputy Puroll needs to be considered a suspect in this shooting."

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