Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel has issued an apology for his role in a 1986 department-sponsored video that mocks the homeless.
The 1986 video shows a group of Seattle police officers, including Pugel, dressed as homeless men underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, drinking, breaking into cars and being rousted by police.
The video, complete with costumes, prop wine bottles and choreography, is set to the tune of The Drifters’ 1964 hit song, “Under the Boardwalk.”
The lyrics include: “Under the Viaduct, where dirt is our floor. Under the Viaduct, who could ask for more? Under the Viaduct, we’ll be drinking our booze. Under the Viaduct, our sores continue to ooze.”
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It didn’t go over well with the department’s brass even at the time, he said.
“Even by 1980s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered this video to be insensitive and inappropriate,” Pugel said in a written apology.
Pugel said he and the other officers who participated in the video were ”soundly reprimanded” by then-Chief Patrick Fitzsimons, who ordered copies of the video destroyed.
One copy remained in the SPD’s video archive and has been the topic of several news tips to The Seattle Times and other media in recent weeks.
Pugel, while repeatedly saying he did not condone the video or his participation in it, said the media tips point to “pockets of resistance” in the SPD who he believes are trying to undermine his role in implementing court-ordered department reforms.
“I regret my participation,” he said. “I am truly sorry … I’ve been embarrassed about it ever since.”
Pugel was appointed interim chief by Mayor Mike McGinn after the announcement earlier this month that Chief John Diaz planned to retire. Pugel, 53, is a 30-year department veteran.
He said the mayor asked him about any problems that might come up at the time. He said he mentioned the video, and has since discussed it with Diaz, the mayor, “several homeless-advocacy groups” and Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the police reforms.
“As a police department, we have much work to do to strengthen our relationships in the community,” Pugel said. “”Sometimes that means addressing an ugly piece of our history head on.”
The department also posted the video and an apology on its website Thursday night.
Pugel said he had planned to release the video and an apology anyway after conducting a “skeleton search” when McGinn approached him about the job as interim chief.
Pugel, who was a SWAT officer when the video was made, said it has been a topic in every promotion interview he’s had since.
The backstory to making the video, he said, was a directive from the department brass at the time to crack down on the homeless living under the viaduct because waterfront condo and apartment owners had complained.
“It was our way of blowing off a little steam,” he said. “That doesn’t excuse what it portrays. It might have been funny to an insider, but it was wrong and it should not have been done.”
The video shocked some homeless advocates despite its age.
“Making jokes about open wounds? Are they insane?” asked Revel Smith, who has acted as a homeless advocate and spokeswoman.
But homeless advocate Scott Morrow says Pugel has been nothing but respectful to the population he helps. When Morrow passes out fliers about recent homeless deaths, he said Pugel takes the flier.
“He always stops and takes an interest in the community we work with and that really does impress me,” Morrow said. “In real life he’s been compassionate, a listener, and I think sincere, when he’s run across us.”
Morrow said Pugel told him on Wednesday that he would be apologizing about the video.
Lisa Daugaard, co-chairwoman of The Defender Association and the deputy director of the new Seattle Community Police Commission, defended Pugel as a reformer who, like many in that role, “have come to view with regret things they did early in their career that seemed just part of police culture at the time.
“We want someone leading the department who would find this reprehensible,” Daugaard said. “According to Chief Pugel’s statement, he does.”
McGinn was made aware of the video at the time the mayor asked Pugel to serve as acting chief.
“Chief Pugel made the right call to share the video and apologize,” wrote McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus in an email.
A message left for City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the public-safety committee, was not immediately returned.
The release of the video comes on the eve of the release of the first report by Bobb
on the department’s progress toward meeting the reforms in a settlement agreement the city reached with the Department of Justice after a civil-rights investigation found Seattle officers routinely use excessive force.
The investigation, completed in December 2011, also found troubling evidence of biased policing.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times staff reporter Alexa Vaughn
contributed to this report.