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Arizona deputy who says he was shot in desert fired over comments

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Sheriff's office terminates deputy over comments to newspaper
  • Louie Puroll said he was shot by suspected drug trafficker
  • Puroll's conduct after probe of shooting "brought great discredit," sheriff says
  • He will appeal his firing, the department says

(CNN) -- An Arizona sheriff's deputy who said he was shot by a suspected drug trafficker in the desert has been fired following an investigation into comments he made to a Phoenix newspaper and investigators, the department said Wednesday.

Louie Puroll, who was previously suspended, will appeal his termination, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Ten allegations were sustained during an internal probe, including incompetence, improper conduct, and violations of truthfulness and the code of ethics, according to the statement.

Sheriff Paul Babeu cited comments Puroll made to reporter Paul Rubin of the Phoenix New Times, which challenged Puroll's version of the April 30 shooting incident.

"I stood by my deputy after he was shot by drug smugglers in April because his statements to both criminal and internal investigators were consistent, supported by physical evidence, radio transmissions, GPS coordinates, other victims/witnesses and later through gunshot residue testing conducted on the shirt he was wearing," Babeu said in the statement. "The manner in which Deputy Puroll conducted himself following the shooting investigation when interviewed by Reporter Paul Rubin brought great discredit to himself and the men and women representing our sworn law enforcement profession."

The department released no other details of the investigation.

Puroll told 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 was also investigated for allegedly telling the 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, sheriff's office spokesman Tim Gaffney said in early December.

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

"Many have suggested a conspiracy, (that) somehow our deputy shot himself," 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, and "to prove without question that the weapon fired at Deputy Puroll was not a 'contact wound.' "

The office said last year 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.