The Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff’s Office has announced that it is reopening the case of a sheriff’s deputy who was shot on April 30, after an article last week raised questions about the deputy’s story that he’d been involved in a shoot-out with drug smugglers — and just hours after telling TPM that the department stood by the original investigation.
In April, the case of Deputy Louie Puroll received widespread media attention, as it came at the height of the debate over the state’s controversial new immigration law. The tale was seized upon by anti-immigration activists to whip up support for the state’s new law. Puroll said that he was shot by drug smugglers during an altercation in the Arizona desert.
Last week, a Phoenix New Times article solicited the opinion of several experts (who were then also contacted by the Associated Press), who said that the wound suffered by Puroll looked like it had been made by a close-range shot, not one fired from 25 yards away, as Puroll had claimed.
“Two individuals reported to a Phoenix media outlet that they felt Deputy Puroll had been shot at a close distance (“within a couple of inches”) and not at a distance as the investigation has determined,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement. “In an effort to maintain the transparency of our criminal investigation, we are reopening this case.”
Among the issues raised by the New Times article was why the department had not requested an examination of the shirt Puroll was wearing that day for the presence of gunpowder — an examination that could theoretically sort out any ambiguity over what happened. According to the department’s release, that test will now be conducted: “The DPS Crime Laboratory has been asked to check the shirt for the presence of gun shot residue indicative of a close contact shot, charring, burning or any other evidence they can find of a close contact shot.”
Just earlier today, Pinal County Public Informatin Officer Tim Gaffney gave TPM a previously drafted statement that the department “stands behind the criminal investigation related to when Deputy Puroll was shot.” Gaffney said:
Physical evidence at the scene supports his account of the events. There was no burn marks on the shirt Deputy Purolll was wearing which would have been present had the shot that struck him been fired from any closer then six feet away. Additionally, there is no stippling on his wound which is caused from burnt gun powder coming from the barrel of a gun when fired at a close distance. The article that is critical of the investigation was written by a reporter who was able to solicit opinions of those with differing views. After a review all of the evidence in this case, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has closed this criminal investigation and concluded that it occurred as Deputy Puroll reported it.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has quickly raised his profile on the national stage as an advocate for border security. Sen. John McCain enlisted Babeu’s help for his “danged fence” campaign ad earlier this year.
Read the latest statement below:
On April 30th, 2010 Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Louie Puroll was involved in a shooting with individuals in the Vekol Valley. This shooting drew both local and national attention. The shooting was investigated by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The criminal investigation had concluded and the facts of the case confirmed the accounts of the event as Deputy Puroll described. Last week, the below two individuals reported to a Phoenix media outlet that they felt Deputy Puroll had been shot at a close distance (“within a couple of inches”) and not at a distance as the investigation has determined.
Doctor Phil Keen, Maricopa County’s former Chief Medical Examiner, said that he did not agree with Dr. Baden or Dr. Spitz on their “contact wound” opinion. He stated he would need the results of the shirt being tested to confirm his opinion. In an effort to maintain the transparency of our criminal investigation, we are reopening this case. The shirt Deputy Puroll was wearing on the day of the shooting will be sent to the Arizona Department of Safety for testing. The DPS Crime Laboratory has been asked to check the shirt for the presence of gun shot residue indicative of a close contact shot, charring, burning or any other evidence they can find of a close contact shot. If in fact a rifle was fired at Deputy Puroll within a couple of inches as Dr. Baden and Dr. Spitz have concluded, burn marks and reside will be present on the shirt. Below is a photo of the shirt which was preserved in our evidence room to ensure proper chain of custody. The shirt will be turned over to the Arizona Department of Public Safety today.
- Doctor Michael Baden, co-director of the New York State Police Medicolegal Investigation Unit and former Chief Medical Examiner for New York City.
- Doctor Werner Spitz, co-author of the textbook Medicolegal Investigation of Death and the retired Chief Medical Examiner of Detroit’s Wayne County.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com