Interim SPD Chief Pugel apologizes for video mocking homeless

by: Alison Grande Updated:

SEATTLE —

In the 1987 video, he’s dressed in tattered clothes, swaying and drooling-drunk, wearing a stubble-beard made of coffee grounds adhered to his young face with Vaseline.  He’s dancing with a chorus-line to the tune of “Under the Boardwalk.” But the lyrics in this video rang-out “Under the Viaduct.”

Interim Seattle police Chief Jim Pugel was only 26, an officer on the force for three years. He was asked to make a comic music video by older SPD colleagues, depicting homeless men drinking, dancing, breaking into cars, and being beaten by cops.

 “I could have said no”, said Pugel, facing a phalanx of TV cameras Thursday. “But I didn’t. It was just immature.”

 Pugel decided it was time to come clean about a dirty secret from his past. He released the 27-year-old video, after finding a master copy in the SPD archives. He issued a written apology to every SPD staff member for the video, which was intended to be comic-relief for cops watching a 30-minute training video on search and seizure.

 “It was a poor decision, I regret it, I’m sorry, but I own it,” said Pugel.

 Last week, Pugel was asked my Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn if there was anything in his past that could cause embarrassment to him, or the profession.

 “This is clearly something that does,” he said.

 In 1989, Seattle Chief Patrick Fitzsimons heard about the video, and called every officer involved into his office.

 “I received a strong reprimand,” Pugel said. “We were told to destroy every copy of the video.” But Pugel knew there were other copies, owned by current and retired officers, floating around.

 “I remember it being stupid, and we couldn’t have inappropriate stuff like that in our department,” Fitzsimons told KIRO-7’s Gary Horcher by phone Thursday. “I remember hiring Pugel more than that incident,” Fitzsimons said. “Good man. Good athlete at the U-Dub. He’s done well, and he did the right thing to apologize like this,” Fitzsimons said.

 Pugel decided to get in front of the video-issue, to prevent it from hitting the web without context, or comment. The 53-year-old is known as a reformer, who hopes to guide low-income homeless criminals into services, instead of behind bars.

 “I work with homeless groups. I have for 20 years,” Pugel said.

 “I apologize to all the people I serve and to those I work with on a daily basis in my community. I just ask their forgiveness,” he said.

 Seattle’s Mayor, Mike McGinn sent Horcher an e-mail after the news conference.

“Chief Pugel brought the video to our attention when the mayor asked him to serve as acting chief.  Chief Pugel made the right call to share the video and to apologize,” the Mayor said.

Seattle police knew the release of the video would hurt the homeless community.  Pugel tried to lessen the blow by apologizing to some homeless advocates in advance.

Other people who work to help the homeless were disappointed by the video. Mike Johnson works for the Union Gospel Mission. His concern was the impact the video would have on the men he helps at the homeless shelter.

“When they see that kind of stereotyping and making fun of them, it makes it harder to believe that if they took the efforts to get back on their feet they would be welcomed," said Johnson.

Johnson said he would like to see Pugel come to the Union Gospel Mission to have breakfast and apologize to some of the homeless men directly.

 At “Nickelsville,” homeless camp residents heard about the video.

 “At first, I was a little bit horrified because I am homeless right now. However, looking around I look around at a lot of second chances and people make mistakes in their past," said Treasa Sides.

Sides said she's willing to give Pugel a second chance.

Scott Morrow is an advocate for the homeless. He said he’s met Pugel before. While he didn’t think the video was funny, he does recognize Pugel’s previous actions and support of the homeless.

“I judge him on how he’s worked with real people and he’s worked with myself and other homeless advocates I know of with decency and respect,” said Morrow.

 The following statement was released on behalf of Pugel: 

“In 1986 I was one of the participants in an official Seattle Police Department training video that made light of homelessness. I regret my participation and have professionally apologized for my role in it. I do so now publicly. I am truly sorry.  Even by 1980’s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered the video to be insensitive and inappropriate. All copies were ordered destroyed. A master copy was retained in our Video Unit. We are releasing this video today not because we were asked to do so, but because I feel it is important to show where this department has been and where it is going.  I have already discussed this with Chief John Diaz, Mayor Mike McGinn, court monitor Merrick Bobb and several Seattle-based homeless advocacy organizations.  I believe in social justice. I have a track record that mirrors this. My support of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and YouthCare are just recent examples. On my own and with my family, I’ve spent countless hours volunteering at downtown social service providers. This reflects both my personal and professional values.  As a police department, we have much work to do to strengthen our relationships in the community. Sometimes that means addressing an ugly piece of our history head on.”

Watch the video below. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=odp-SM_mMI0