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Arizona deputy put on leave for comments made to media outlet

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Arizona deputy is on administrative leave after comments he made to media
  • A local news outlet challenges the deputy's version of an April shooting
  • Article quotes experts, who conflict with deputy's account

(CNN) -- An Arizona sheriff's deputy who claimed that he was shot by a suspected drug trafficker in the desert has been put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of comments he made to a Phoenix newspaper, authorities said Wednesday.

Pinal County Sheriff's spokesman Tim Gaffney said Louie Puroll is being investigated for comments he made to the Phoenix New Times, which challenged Puroll's version of the April 30 shooting incident.

He pointed to Puroll's comments to the newspaper that representatives of "the Mexican cartel" have approached him four or five times over the years wanting to do business and asking him to look the other way.

Puroll told the newspaper he didn't arrest any of these men, call for backup, or write reports about the encounters, the New Times reported.

Puroll also is being investigated for allegedly telling a New Times reporter "you're lucky to be alive right now" and that he knew a rancher who offered to murder the reporter after his initial article challenged Puroll's account of his wounding, Gaffney said.

In October, authorities said Puroll was telling the truth about how we was wounded. They presented evidence from a follow-up investigation provoked by a media report challenging the deputy's version of events.

"Many have suggested a conspiracy, [that] somehow our deputy shot himself," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said at a press conference October 7. "People weighed in that weren't from Arizona ... and it put that question of doubt in the public's mind that there's something here to look at."

In September, The Phoenix New Times cited forensic experts who challenged the account from Puroll, who said he was shot in the central Arizona desert from a distance by an illegal immigrant with an AK-47. Two experts were quoted by the New Times as saying the evidence suggested Puroll had been shot at very close range.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office said in October that new testing on the bullet-torn shirt Puroll was wearing on the day of the shooting had ruled out a close-range shot.

"The physical evidence, radio traffic, phone calls and now this gunshot residue testing completed by the Arizona Department of Public Safety all confirm [Puroll's] account of the events," the sheriff's office said in a statement.

The New Times allegations provoked the sheriff's office to reopen its investigation into the case "to maintain transparency," according to the sheriff's office statement, and "to prove without question that the weapon fired at Deputy Puroll was not a 'contact wound.' "

The office said that Puroll's shirt from the day of the incident was tested by the Arizona Department of Public Safety for "the presence of munitions residue, indicative of a close contact discharge."

"This testing further confirms that the gunshot wound was not a close contact shot as had been reported by the two doctors through a local media entity," the statement said, referring to The Phoenix New Times.

Asked at an October press conference if he was anxious about how the tests would come back, Puroll said no.

"I did not need any test -- I was there," he said. "I did not shoot myself."

On April 30, Puroll contacted authorities after being wounded in the desert, Lt. Tammy Villar, a sheriff's spokeswoman, said at the time.

The deputy radioed that he had encountered five men, some wielding long guns and handguns, and said they were carrying a large amount of marijuana.

At one point the deputy lost radio contact with authorities, leading to a search by foot and by air for him and the shooter, according to CNN affiliate KNXV. Video from the scene showed that the deputy was located while sitting in desert brush, surrounded by cactus. He was able to walk to a helicopter, which airlifted him to a hospital.

The deputy was shot in the left abdomen and suffered a superficial wound, law enforcement sources said at the time.

The shooting came amid a national debate over Arizona's tough new immigration law, which allows police to demand proof of legal residency.

Arizona lawmakers say the law is needed because the federal government has failed to enforce border security with Mexico, allowing more than 450,000 illegal immigrants to move into the state.