After a frantic hourlong desert search southwest of Casa Grande, authorities found a Pinal County sheriff's deputy wounded in a shooting Friday with suspected drug smugglers.
Deputy Louie Puroll, 53, was found with a superficial wound - a chunk of skin torn from just above his left kidney - after being shot with an AK-47 on Friday afternoon, Pinal sheriff's Lt. Tamatha Villar said. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Casa Grande, about 70 miles northwest of Tucson. He was released later Friday night.
Villar said Puroll was doing smuggling interdiction work near Arizona 84 and Interstate 8, and found bales of marijuana. He then encountered five suspected illegal immigrants, two armed with rifles, and was shot.
"He was out on his routine daily patrol in the area when he encountered a load of marijuana out in the desert. He obviously confronted the individuals and took fire," Villar said. "I was speaking with him just a bit ago, and he's doing fantastic."
The deputy, a 15-year department veteran, was alone about five miles from a rest stop along I-8. The area is a well-known drug and people smuggling corridor.
"Over the past 12 months we've seen an increase in the amount of drugs, and an increase in violence that has been going on in this particular corridor," Villar said. "We've had increasing concerns in this area about being outmanned and outgunned, and unfortunately this evening, this is coming true."
The shooting came as Arizona grapples with backlash over its enactment of a tough new law targeting illegal immigration. Civil-rights activists, concerned the law will lead to racial profiling, have called for a boycott of the state.
The smugglers had not been found as of late Friday.