AZ Sheriff Suspends Deputy Who Said He Was Shot By Smugglers

December 3, 2010 10:20 a.m.

The Arizona deputy involved in a disputed high-profile shooting incident last spring has been put on paid administrative leave by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, after making a number of loaded statements to a reporter.Deputy Louie Puroll is the man who made headlines across the country in April, when he said he was shot in the desert by drug smugglers. The incident occurred just days after Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, and helped propel Sheriff Babeu to national prominence as a voice on border issues. But in September, reporter Paul Rubin published a story in the Phoenix New Times that questioned Puroll’s tale, and which featured interviews with law enforcement and forensic experts casting doubts on several aspects of the deputy’s account.

In the wake of Rubin’s story, the sheriff’s office stood by Puroll, who had not to that point spoken publicly about the incident. Babeu told local news that “we have nothing to hide here” and he called the New Times a “conspiracy theory newspaper.” Still, in an attempt to quell speculation, the office submitted the bloody shirt Puroll had worn the day of the incident for testing. Among other things, experts had suggested to Rubin that Puroll’s wound was sustained at close range (the deputy had said he’d been shot from some distance away), and questioned why his shirt had never been tested for gunpowder. Several days later, the test came back negative, and Babeu declared the case “closed,” while Puroll spoke out against his critics in a defiant press conference.

Now, Puroll has been placed on paid administrative leave after he spoke with Rubin for an article that was published on Thanksgiving. The deputy gave Rubin a tour of the area where he was shot, and spoke at length about the incident and his life. Puroll says he took a month-long trip alone to Kazakhstan this summer, where he rode horses with nomads. The article captures a confident and colorful law enforcement agent, unafraid of saying something indelicate.

“I can make up a pretty good story when I choose to,” Puroll tells Rubin at one point, “but I don’t have to.”

In a press release announcing Puroll’s leave, the Sheriff’s office cited three particular parts of the article it considers grounds for the move. For one, Puroll told Rubin that he had been approached several times over the years by drug cartel representatives looking to grease him. Second, Puroll bragged about another firefight he said he’d been in, when working at an African gold mine in the 1980s. Finally, the deputy disclosed to Rubin that a friend had offered to murder the reporter after the original story.

“You’re lucky to be alive right now,” Rubin quotes Puroll saying. Puroll adds that he’d told his friend, who he described as a “rancher of Mexican descent,” it “wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“If the statements reported in the article written by Mr. Rubin are in fact proven accurate, the conduct of Deputy Puroll is not consistent with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office policies nor do I approve of the way in which he represented our sworn profession,” Babeu said in a statement. (You may recall Babeu from Sen. John McCain’s “Danged Fence” ad.) The office’s release said Puroll would be on leave “pending an Internal Affairs investigation.”

TPM emailed Rubin to ask if he thought Puroll deserved the leave.

“Warranted? Dude definitely should have reported several alleged contacts with “cartel” guys trying to bribe him,” Rubin responded. “And he never should have told me, a prospective alleged murder victim, that his pal wanted to do me in cuz of my first story on the case, “Pinalcchio.” If I were them, I guess I would ask another agency to check it out. But I really don’t care much either way–just write `em.”

Read the sheriff’s office’s entire release:

Pinal County Sheriff Deputy Louie Puroll has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an Internal Affairs investigation regarding comments he allegedly made to Phoenix New Times Reporter Paul Rubin. The investigation will be handled by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Professional Standards Unit.

According to an article published in the Phoenix New Times on November 25th written by Mr. Rubin, Deputy Puroll made statements regarding meetings he has had with known Mexican Drug Cartel operatives, who “have approached him four or five times over the years wanting to do business.”

The article makes further claims that Deputy Puroll made other comments regarding possible shooting incidents he has been involved in that would make the Vekol Valley incident, “seem like eating lunch at the Dairy Queen.”

Deputy Puroll also allegedly said, “Now that that’s off (referring to a tape recorder used by Mr. Rubin), let me tell you something. You’re lucky to be alive right now.” He reportedly continues by stating a rancher (Mexican descent) friend offered to murder the journalist, because of what he wrote in his initial article questioning the veracity of Deputy Puroll.

Sheriff Paul Babeu stated, “If the statements reported in the article written by Mr. Rubin are in fact proven accurate, the conduct of Deputy Puroll is not consistent with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office policies nor do I approve of the way in which he represented our sworn profession.”

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