An analysis of the shirt worn by Pinal County Arizona Sheriff Deputy Louie Puroll on the day he says he was shot by drug smugglers has come back negative for gunpowder, suggesting the shot was not fired from close range, as some experts who had examined photos of Puroll had suggested to a Phoenix New Times reporter. The test lends support to Puroll’s account of the incident, which was questioned by the pathologists and other experts contacted by the New Times. Sheriff Paul Babeu told reporters yesterday that the matter is now closed.
Puroll was shot April 30 in a remote part of the Arizona desert. He said he was shot in a gun battle with men he suspected to be drug smugglers. The incident occurred just days after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the state’s controversial new immigration law, and the case attracted widespread coverage, and was hyped by border security hawks. Babeu — who has risen to national prominence as a voice on border security — reopened the case two weeks ago after the New Times article raised questions about Puroll’s story, including why the shirt he was wearing was never tested for traces of gunpowder.
Last night, Puroll spoke to the press for the first time since the incident.
“I did not shoot myself,” Puroll told reporters at a press conference, in video aired on 3TV news.
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that the Arizona Department of Public Safety analysis concluded “a hole was located on the back left side of the t-shirt. The area around the hole was microscopically and chemically processed for the presence of gunshot residues. Bullet wipe was found which is consistent with the passage of a bullet; however, no gun power [sic] was detected.”
A DPS statement on the matter said that it is “important to note the shooting is being investigated by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department” and that “DPS will not be commenting at this time on the evidence examined by the Crime Lab or any other aspect of this case.”
“This case is now closed, and we’re going to move on,” Babeu said, according to The Arizona Republic. “Deputy Puroll is a victim of a shooting, and that focus has been lost.”
“If there’s inconsistencies, it’s because I wasn’t taking notes in the middle of a gun fight,” Puroll told 12 News. He said he doesn’t feel vindicated by the findings: “The harm that has been done is done. I can’t do anything to change it, you can’t do anything to change it. It’s done. I don’t like it, but that doesn’t change it. It’s done. No, I don’t feel vindicated.”
Of the political pickup his story got, Puroll said on 3TV that “until this shooting happened, and I got home that night and was watching the news, I’d never heard of 1070,” referring to Arizona’s immigration law.
“Right now, my feeling on it, is that it made some politicians look good and made some others mad,” Puroll said, in video aired by Fox 10 News, apparently referring to the law. A reporter asked if Puroll supported “it” and Puroll responded “No, I don’t.”
“I have answered every single questions asked of me by every single investigator involved in this, anyone who says I lawyered up is a damn liar,” Puroll also said.
While the test lends supports to Puroll’s account of the incident, it still does not answer why Babeu has made statements in the media that do not match his deputy’s story.
According to 12 News, an internal affairs investigation of the incident is still pending.
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