Pinalcchio

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

The statement couldn't be vaguer, but it does get a point across.

Puroll's supervisor, Sergeant Brian Messing, has given him top grades for knowing how to rescue people — many illegal immigrants included — from potentially deadly situations in the unforgiving Pinal County desert that he knows so well.

But Messing also has given the deputy subpar ratings regarding how he interacts with other police agencies — and on how he occasionally has treated victims, witnesses, and suspects.

Shooting site.
Jamie Peachy
Shooting site.
Deputy Louie Puroll suffered this “grazing”
gunshot wound about three hours before these photos were taken at
a Casa Grande hospital.
Courtesy of the Pinal Co. sheriff’s office
Deputy Louie Puroll suffered this “grazing” gunshot wound about three hours before these photos were taken at a Casa Grande hospital.

Details

"Louie is a very individualistic guy," the sergeant tells New Times, "and he's an alpha male, like the rest of us out here. He's very calm and cool, but when he's in a situation, his nervousness comes out as crotchety, and he barks. But I've never had to worry about his actions in a tactical sense."

Bruce Peterson, a Mesa Community College professor, says he met Puroll in 2005 when the deputy led a team into the Superstition Mountains to rescue him from dehydration. The following year, Puroll joined the professor on a student expedition back into the area.

"Louie is an expert in the back country," Peterson says, "and he's as honest and honorable as the day is long. He just has a way of telling the truth in a very graphic manner, and he's a great storyteller."

Peterson wrote in a journal after the expedition, "Everyone stayed up listening to Louie's colorful stories of African goldmines, wilderness rescues, and border crossings and smuggling."


Louie Puroll first checked in with dispatch at 8:57 on the morning of April 30.

The deputy drove his unmarked Chevy Tahoe SUV to work, ate breakfast at a restaurant in Arizona City, and then headed in the early afternoon toward the Vekol Valley, about 20 miles west.

By Puroll's account, he drove his four-wheel-drive Tahoe south into the desert at Double Gates Road, at the border of Pinal and Maricopa counties. It is at milepost 151 on I-8.

His supervisor, Sergeant Messing, was off that day. But Puroll apparently didn't inform anyone else in authority of his plans to patrol an untamed area that his sheriff has likened to a war zone.

He negotiated the bumpy, curvy dirt road for about four miles until he reached the end, and then parked his vehicle. Then he walked north for about two miles before perching above a well-traveled dirt trail that leads to the interstate.

The weather was moderate; the high temperature that day was just 70 degrees.

At 1:45 p.m., Puroll called a police dispatcher on his cell phone.

"This is SAR 1," he told her. "Do you have something to write with?"

"Um, yeah," she said.

Puroll said, "Write down these GPS coordinates," and then told her what he was up to:

"I'm up on the side of a hill watching a smuggler's trail. I don't need any help or anything. I just want you to know where I'm at. If I call you for help, I might be in a hurry and won't have time to tell you where I'm at, and now you know. Thank you."

Puroll was wearing khakis, a dark green T-shirt (he either was wearing a heavy long-sleeved shirt or carrying it around his backpack), a floppy hat, and combat boots. He said later his Camelbak backpack held a blanket, water, a first-aid kit, and other survival items.

The deputy was carrying an M-16 rifle in a sling and had a Glock handgun in a holster. He also had a handheld GPS device, a new BlackBerry phone, binoculars, and extra ammunition.

All that immediately identified Puroll as a peace officer was his Pinal County sheriff's badge, which may or may not have been visible on his belt.

What he didn't have in this "war zone" was a bulletproof vest or police radio, just his cell phone.

"We were switching out our old radios for new and better ones," Pinal County sheriff's Lieutenant Tamatha Villar explained later.

The GPS location Puroll gave at 1:45 p.m. was a mile and a quarter southeast of the coordinates he would give a dispatcher at 4:04 p.m., just after he said he was shot.

Puroll was incommunicado for two hours after the 1:45 call — at least, his cell records show no activity during that time.

At 3:42, he again called in.

"Hello, this is SAR 1," Puroll told the dispatcher, wheezing as he spoke. "Can you track this phone?"

She said she could and that it showed he was near the frontage road parallel to I-8.

"Look, I'm about eight miles south of the frontage road," the deputy said, sounding testy.

"Are you okay?" the dispatcher asked calmly.

"I'm just winded."

"Were you running?"

"Yeah, I got about eight people on foot in front of me carrying heavy backpacks. [They've] not spotted me yet. I'm standing about a quarter-mile back from them."

Puroll's phone got disconnected, at which point the dispatcher said to a colleague in an aside captured on tape, "Why would this fool be chasing people in the desert all by himself?"

It was a good question.

The dispatcher reconnected with Puroll within a few minutes.

"Listen to me," he told her. "I'm in the saddle [a mountain pass] south of the truck stop. I'm following five or six individuals. Big backpacks full of dope. I'm a couple of hundred yards back. They have not seen me.

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