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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Anti-immigration publicity stunt backfires

In Arizona’s ongoing quest to rally anti-illegal immigration sentiment, it would appear that a Pinal County deputy sheriff shot himself in the foot. Actually, the side.

Pinal County authorities are reopening an investigation into an incident that Deputy Sheriff Louie Puroll claimed occurred April 30. Puroll reported engaging in a running gun battle with six men, who appeared to be drug smugglers, in the Vekol Valley.

Puroll said one of the men saw him, fired an AK-47 and grazed his left side. He then reportedly returned fire and struck one man, who fell out of Puroll’s line of sight.

The Arizona Daily Star reported hundreds of authorities searched the area in the subsequent hours but only found six shell casings that could have matched the weapons Puroll said were used to attack him. Similar to Gov. Jan Brewer’s headless bodies in the desert, they did not find any backpacks, shooters or evidence of someone Puroll may have shot. Six men, one who was injured, and there was almost no sign of them.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office originally stood by Puroll’s story, but reopened the investigation after two forensic pathologists examined photos of his wound. Puroll claimed the shot was fired from about 25 yards away. The experts concluded  he could not have been shot from more than a few inches away.

Besides Puroll’s wound suggesting the bullet was fired at close range, the (Phoenix New Times) exposed a number of other false claims released by authorities and disproved by physical evidence, including that “”bales”” of marijuana were left when the six smugglers fled (there were none confiscated) and that Puroll faced at least 30 rounds of gunfire (he didn’t).

Lab tests will examine gunpowder on Puroll’s shirt; the amount present will demonstrate how close the gun was fired to Puroll’s body.

Other questions, besides those regarding physical evidence, were raised by the New Times’ report: Why was Puroll alone? Why didn’t he wait for backup when he was specifically told to do so by his supervisor? Why did Puroll refuse to be video- or audio-taped during his walk-through of the scene with Arizona Department of Public Safety investigators?

Regardless of all the possible answers, I wouldn’t put my faith in a law enforcement official who apparently shot himself or allowed himself to be shot for any reason, especially to create a perception of fear and danger. That scenario is scary, but not for the same reasons Puroll’s version of the events is.

Dr. Steven Pitt, a psychiatrist and law enforcement consultant, told the New Times, “”This case has a divide the size of the Grand Canyon between the behavioral evidence and the physical evidence.””  

After Puroll recovered, he was awarded a Purple Heart by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Sen. John McCain at an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

The whole story demonstrates the bizarre lengths Arizona’s public officials will go to in order to influence public opinion.

The incident occurred within days of Gov. Jan Brewer’s signing of S.B. 1070. It also followed the murder of Robert Krentz, a rancher who was shot by a suspected illegal immigrant. Arizona’s attitude toward illegal immigration was already sour. Puroll’s reported incident pushed all the right buttons: One American encounters a band of drug smugglers, most likely from south of the border, and single-handedly fights them off, coming away with just a superficial wound and an incredible case for why border security is weak.

It is, perhaps, too early to call Puroll a liar. Unlike Pinal County, I’m uncomfortable with making conclusive statements before a thorough investigation is complete. But it is easy to see his claim has gaps. No one except Puroll could say what kind of motive he would have for (sort of) taking a bullet, but it’s also easy to look at the timing of the incident. You can’t say it wasn’t convenient.

If everything Puroll said actually happened, and the evidence supported that, the incident could be and was used to further an agenda. And the unraveling of the incident could be used to undermine it.

Deputy Puroll’s account of (April 30) served as a political opportunity, bringing Arizona another step into the national spotlight on border security. But the missteps — the unusualness of his description of the situation, the conflicting physical evidence — bring us closer to crazy town, population: us.

 

— Kristina Bui is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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