A Pinal County sheriff’s deputy who survived a shootout with drug smugglers in Vekol Valley just south of Maricopa and an investigation to determine whether his dramatic tale about the armed encounter was true, was fired yesterday for comments he made to the Phoenix New Times.
“I stood by [Louie] Puroll’s controversial claim of being in an April shootout because the account was supported by evidence,” said Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. “However, comments made by the deputy to a Phoenix New Times reporter brought discredit to himself and the men and women representing our sworn law enforcement profession.”
Puroll was placed on administrative leave Dec. 1 and an investigation was launched to determine whether the deputy’s comments to the media, or actions revealed by them, were a violation of departmental policy.
According to published reports, Puroll told New Times reporter Paul Rubin in an interview that representatives of “the Mexican cartel” had approached him four or five times during the past few years “wanting to do business.”
“They didn’t want me to sell or buy the stuff, just that they’d make it worth my while to look the other way out in the desert if I bumped into them,” he said in the interview.
Puroll added that he didn’t arrest any of these men, call for backup, or write reports about the encounters. He also said he had been involved in other shooting incidents that would make the Vekol Valley incident ”seem like eating lunch at Dairy Queen.”
During the Vekol Valley incident, Puroll apparently suffered a minor flesh wound during what he characterized as an ambush by armed drug smugglers he was tracking through the area.
Portions of the shootout were recorded in a 911 call the deputy made while allegedly exchanging fire with the smugglers. In the aftermath of the incident, some law enforcement experts and journalists questioned Puroll’s account because expended cartridges at the scene not match the deputy’s description of events and the hole ripped in his shirt appeared to some experts to have been caused by a shot from close range versus the distance Puroll claimed to have been shot from. The inability of more than 100 law officers, supported by helicopters and tracking dogs, to locate the suspected smugglers or their marijuana loads added to the suspicion.
However, the sheriff’s department investigated the case twice and declared Puroll’s account to be true.
In addition to the claims Puroll made to the reporter about his own dealings with the drug cartels, he also told the reporter that he was lucky to be alive because cartels were upset with him for an article he wrote. He added that a friend of his who is a rancher had offered to murder the reporter.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said all of the incidents, if true, should have been reported to command staff within the Sheriff’s Office, yet there is no record of that happening.
The result of the investigation found Puroll guilty of violating 10 departmental polices, resulting in his immediate termination.
The deputy has already formally appealed the decision and will have his case heard before the county’s merit board.