Arizona Deputy Shot in Border Confrontation
PHOENIX - Five Hispanic men authorities described as drug smugglers shot a Pinal County sheriff's deputy Friday afternoon when the officer came upon them and a large amount of marijuana in a remote part of south-central Arizona.
The area where the shooting took place is considered a high-traffic drug- and human-smuggling corridor.
A massive hunt that included helicopters with night vision and more than 100 officers, including SWAT teams, and search dogs, was pursuing the shooters Friday evening. More than one helicopter came under fire as officers rescued Deputy Louie Puroll, who was shot with an AK-47-type weapon around 4 p.m. MST, according to the sheriff's office.
Puroll sustained a flesh wound above his kidney, but he was in good condition late Friday at Casa Grande Regional Medical Center.
"Our thoughts&prayers go out to the Pinal County Deputy shot during a stop," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a Twitter message on the Internet Friday evening. "Contrary to what some leaders say, our borders are not secure."
The shooting occurred exactly one week after Brewer signed the toughest anti-immigration law in the country. The legislation has been hotly debated, and it has put Arizona in the national spotlight over how a border state deals with rampant illegal immigration. The legislation has sparked protests and calls to boycott the state.
Pinal County Lt. Tami Villar said Friday's incident "sends a very powerful and loud message that we have a problem."
Villar said Puroll, 53, was attacked about 5 miles south of Interstate 8 near its junction with Arizona Highway 84. She said the veteran deputy is assigned to patrol the area known for drug smuggling.
She said the suspects were Hispanic men who "appear to be undocumented."
Villar said the suspects were armed with long guns and at least one handgun. She said gunfire with helicopters came about an hour after the initial incident. An unknown amount of marijuana apparently handled by the shooters remained in the desert.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office dispatched a helicopter and members of its SWAT team to Pinal County to assist in the case, said Sheriff's Lt. Brian Lee. Pinal County also requested assistance from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which responded with two helicopters and a SWAT team.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was headed to Pinal County to assist in the investigation, Lee said. About 70 sheriff's employees responded to the scene. Lee said most had been involved in a crime suppression sweep in the Maryvale area earlier in the day.
The Border Patrol also sent agents to help the Pinal County Sheriff's Office with the investigation, said Mario Escalante, a Border Patrol spokesman assigned to the Tucson sector.