State Cops Crime-Scene Probe Into High-Profile Pinal County Shooting Involving Sheriff's Deputy Louie Puroll Raises Many Questions
New Times has secured an Arizona Department of Public Safety report on its crime-scene investigation into the alleged April 30 daytime desert clash between Pinal County sheriff's Deputy Louie Puroll and a group of drug-smuggling undocumented aliens.
Does the DPS scene analysis accuse or even suggest that Deputy Puroll (in the June 5 photo) staged the episode and injured himself slightly somehow for unspecified motives?
Or does it suggest that the deputy may have engaged in a nefarious scheme of his own device--say a shakedown of desert drug dealers or something of that nature (a la the recent arrest of Phoenix cop James Wren for ripping off drug dealers while on duty) when things went awry?
The answer is no to both questions, but with a large asterisk attached.
Says a veteran crime-scene detective (not involved in the case) who analyzed the DPS report for us: "There are red flags all over this situation, starting with the fact that [the DPS] was unable to do as thorough a report as they would have wanted, mainly because they weren't allowed to interview the the deputy--the alleged victim--who lawyered up. This thing looks very, very suspicious on any number of levels."
That detective is referring to the fact that Deputy Puroll chose not to cooperate fully with the DPS crime-scene team after Puroll's agency asked the state cops to provide assistance in that part of the case.
Why the 53-year-old deputy--the alleged victim of a cold-blooded attempted murder--took that tack is one of the many questions that has emerged in this intriguing case.
The DPS report says Puroll pretty much clammed up on the advice of his union (AZCOPS) attorney, agreeing to the standard walk-through of the scene with DPS investigators and a sheriff's detective after the incident only if the state cops agreed not to make audio or video recordings.
The DPS complied, despite a law enforcement standard in officer-involved shootings that calls for investigators to "conduct taped interviews" of all witnesses--including the police.
Whether Puroll did submit to questioning by criminal investigators from his own agency is uncertain.
(Pinal County sheriff's spokeswoman Lieutenant Tamatha Villar told us last week that her agency will release its own report on the case in the near future. We e-mailed her a list of questions early this morning about various aspects of the case, but she hasn't gotten back to us).
In the DPS "Findings" section of its report, Detective Jeff Brown--the lead investigator--noted only that "All conclusions relative to this criminal investigation will be formulated by the Pinal County Attorney's Office upon review of the criminal case."
That says exactly nothing.
We will be writing more about the Puroll case shortly (watch Valley Fever and our print paper), but here's a little background followed by major findings gleaned from the DPS report and other sources:
The deputy claimed to have been ambushed by up to three (but more likely two) armed marijuana smugglers he happened on and then tracked for at least a mile on foot while patrolling solo about three miles south of Interstate 8 at milepost 147.
The three men of Latino descent were part of a group of five or six guys who allegedly were lugging marijuana across a part of the desert well known to authorities as a corridor for the smuggling of drugs and people from south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Puroll sustained one (or two, again depending on the verbal accounts of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Lieutenant Villar) superficial gunshot wounds to just above his left kidney during a shootout that lasted anywhere, according to the county authorities, from one to 20 minutes.
According to Sheriff Babeu's account to the media, the still-at-large assailants shot at Deputy Puroll "for 20 minutes" as the officer returned fire with almost 50 rounds from his M-16 A1 assault rifle and his Glock pistol, possibly wounding one of the men.
(Click here if you want to read an early Associated Press account. Note Sheriff Babeu's reference in the story to about 30 bullets fired at the deputy, and to "bales of marijuana" that Lieutenant Villar said Louie Puroll had reported seeing while on "routine patrol."
Sheriff Babeu reiterated at a press conference that Puroll told him of seeing five men "clearly carrying marijuana" on backpacks before following them deeper into the desert before getting ambushed.
For the record, police never confiscated any marijuana, nor have they arrested anyone in connection with the Puroll case.
Now, the DPS findings and some other information:
--Deputy Puroll lost his loaded Glock in the area later designated as the crime scene. The DPS detectives located the weapon when they searched the scene about 18 hours after the incident. The deputy apparently reloaded it there after he fired 16 shots (expended shell casings apparently from the pistol were in the area before he somehow left it behind.
--Puroll allegedly parked his patrol vehicle about one mile from where the late-afternoon shootout allegedly occurred, and then set off by himself into the desert tracking marijuana-laden smugglers, about 10 minutes (according to Sheriff Babeu) before at least two members of the malevolent crew ambushed and tried to murder him. It remains unclear exactly when the deputy first called for backup, and precisely what he said in that radio call.
--According to its Evidence Recovery Log, the DPS located 29 expended shell casings from Puroll's M-16, A1 assault rifle inside the perimeter (a full magazine holds 30 bullets) and the 16 shell casings from the deputy's Glock, the gun that he lost.
--The detectives collected six shell casings that may have been fired by two AK-47 assault rifles. Four 7.62 x 39mm casings (AK-47 bullets) were in one part of the crime scene, and two were in another. Three spent casings from a .45-caliber handgun were a distance from each the AK-47 casings.The nine expended casings at the scene that weren't Puroll's apparently account for all shots that could have been fired at the deputy during the alleged gunfight, and suggests that this was not the wild shootout depicted by Sheriff Babeu and others. Babeu said at a press conference in early May that a full-blown firefight lasted from "a minute or less," with at least two alleged assailants continuing to fire at Puroll for about 20 minutes after the initial salvo.
--Several unfired AK-47 bullet magazines also were confiscated within the scene, as well as food, a cell phone, and other items suggesting that the area was serving as a camp for undocumented aliens who, without question, do frequent that vicinity.
--The scene was unsecured (and therefore compromised) by law enforcement overnight, and criminal defense attorneys we contacted say this could spell doom in the event that anyone ever is charged in connection with the incident.