PHOENIX, Sept. 28, 2010— -- One week after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a tough new anti-immigration bill in April, a dramatic incident in the Arizona desert focused the debate over her decision.
A sheriff's deputy called for backup, saying he had been caught in a firefight.
"I'm not OK, I've been shot. Tell them to hurry up," Deputy Louie Puroll said on a recording of the call. "There's at least two guys with AK's. I may have gotten one of them, but I can't, uh, I got to get off the phone and shut up."
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Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu claimed that his deputy was ambushed by a band of Mexicans smuggling marijuana.
"He had 20 to 30 rounds fired at him," Sheriff Babeu said after the incident.
Babeu immediately became the darling of Arizona's anti-immigrantion movement. At a Diamondbacks baseball game, he awarded Puroll a Purple Heart before himself throwing out the first pitch. Babeu became a regular on the Fox News Channel, and even appeared in John McCain's campaign ads for his re-election bid.
The problem is, there is now mounting evidence that the shooting may have been a hoax.
Serious holes emerged this week in the deputy's story, starting with a supposed bullet hole in his side. One of the nation's top forensic experts says the evidence points to a self-inflicted wound. The powder burns indicate the muzzle was in contact with his body when the gun fired.
"I cannot tell you who held the gun and who pulled the trigger, but in theory, an individual could cause this wound to himself," said Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist who examined photos of the wounds released by the sheriff's office.
Although hundreds of law enforcement officials responded to the scene, they never recovered the bales of marijuana or found the alleged shooters.
Deputy's Story Called into Question in Arizona
Paul Rubin, an investigative reporter for the Phoenix New Times newspaper, broke the story this week. The New Times is now calling the Pinal County Sheriff's deputy "Pinalcchio."
"This isn't going to change the debate, but it will make people think twice that illegal immigrants are all gun-toting, sheriff-shooting bad guys," said Rubin.
The deputy isn't talking right now, but Sheriff Babeu is sticking to his guns.
"To try to dismiss this or excuse it with some type of a hypothetical conspiracy theory is a far stretch," Babeu said today.
The sheriff is reopening the investigation -- not because he doesn't believe his deputy, he says, but rather because he hopes to exonerate him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.