A deputy who came under scrutiny earlier this year after claiming he was wounded by drug smugglers in the Arizona desert has been suspended over comments he made to a weekly Phoenix newspaper, the Pinal County sheriff’s office said Wednesday.
The Phoenix New Times’ story quoted Deputy Louie Puroll as saying that he had been approached by members of a Mexican drug cartel several times over the years and they had offered to “make it worth my while to look the other way out in the desert if I bumped into them.”
The story also quoted him as saying that he didn’t arrest the men, call for backup or report the alleged encounters.
Puroll has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal probe involving his statements, Sheriff Paul Babeu said.
“If the statements reported in the article … are in fact proven accurate, the conduct of Deputy Puroll is not consistent with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office policies, nor do I approve of the way in which he represented our sworn profession,” Babeu said.
Sheriff’s spokesman Tim Gaffney said the probe will be handled by the office’s professional standards unit and no other information would be released until the investigating is concluded.
Puroll was in the national spotlight earlier this year when he claimed he was ambushed by smugglers firing AK-47 rifles about 50 miles south of Phoenix, and was grazed in the back by a bullet during a running gunbattle.
The April 30 shooting raised questions about why a deputy would be looking for armed drug smugglers in the remote desert without backup. A dragnet involving more than 100 officers in the rugged mountainous area found no suspects and no bales of marijuana.
In September, sheriff’s officials said independent testing of Puroll’s bloodied shirt backed up his story.
Puroll also dismissed speculation that he staged the incident to publicize drug and human smuggling.