A shooting in which an officer is wounded is like any other violent crime investigation.
It requires a search for facts and evidence that will be needed to prove or disprove a crime was committed and by whom. The primary goals are to find out what happened and who did it, and assist prosecutors in bringing to justice those who committed the crime. Assumptions are not evidence.
Did the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office adhere to these guidelines in the well-publicized case involving Deputy Louie Puroll?
On April 30, Puroll called sheriff’s headquarters on his cell phone to report he’d been ambushed west of Casa Grande by five or six people toting AK-47s and hauling large bundles of marijuana.
Puroll was alone, without a police radio and body armor, about eight miles south of Interstate 8 in extremely rough desert terrain when he was reportedly shot. He said the shootout with bandits took place when they were within 25 yards of each other.
About 200 city, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement officers and four helicopters responded. The massive manhunt began within an hour.
After a multiday search, no one linked to the shooting was found, no evidence was found supporting Puroll’s belief he wounded someone and none of the marijuana bundles were found. The PCSO investigation into who shot Puroll was closed without arrests and was done so before all of the evidence was examined.
A Phoenix New Times story by Paul Rubin on Sept. 23 challenged the PCSO’s conclusions surrounding the events of Puroll’s shooting, leading to speculation that it was a hoax timed to inflame the debate over illegal immigration and further Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s anti-immigration stance.
Rubin, who has earned a reputation as a pro-law enforcement investigative journalist who spent a year embedded with Phoenix police homicide detectives, consulted with three forensic pathologists, one forensic psychiatrist, a retired police criminalist and several retired expert police and sheriff’s homicide detectives for the story.
An analysis of the photos taken by PCSO of Puroll’s wound by the two of the three pathologists led to their conclusion the wound was a “close contact wound” — not one that occurred from a shot 25 yards away, as Puroll said. Since then, Babeu has said he stands by Puroll’s report but he reopened the investigation in an effort to maintain transparency. The “reopened” investigation is limited to having Puroll’s T-shirt examined by the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Lab — which was not done in the initial investigation.
Rubin’s conclusion of the events was that, “In the end, key aspects of Puroll’s account to authorities, plus an analysis of the reported crime scene, lead to this troubling conclusion: The odds that Puroll is telling the truth about what happened to him are slim.”
I have read the reports and examined the photographs and concur 100 percent.
PCSO’s version of events from everything to where Puroll was, where the smugglers were, what happened and what the deputy did during, after and while waiting for help to arrive and how they conducted the investigation have created reasonable doubt in the minds of many experts.
DPS has investigated and overseen Pinal County deputy-involved shootings since the 1970s. In this case, DPS detectives were asked to lead the investigation until Babeu told them to only process the crime scene. The failure of Babeu’s deputies to submit all of the evidence from the Puroll investigation to the crime lab for analysis was a bad decision. So was not using DPS detectives to conduct the investigation like they have for almost 40 years.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com. He sometimes blogs for Phoenix New Times.