A pro Initiative 940 commercial featuring Jim Pugel has been running on TV for weeks, angering some current and retired officers.
The piano music is soothing. The voices are comforting.
But the TV ad in support of Initiative 940 – the ballot measure that would lift a longstanding barrier to prosecuting law-enforcement officers who misuse deadly force and require statewide de-escalation training for police – is jarring for the mere fact of who appears in the commercial.
One of those speaking is Jim Pugel, who during a 36-year career in law enforcement rose to the top ranks of the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office before retiring in May.
The other is Monika Williams, sister of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother of four who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers on June 18, 2017 after she called 911 to report a burglary at her Northeast Seattle apartment.
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Police said Lyles suddenly threatened Officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson with one or two knives before they opened fire. No evidence of a burglary was found. A police review board found the shooting to be reasonable.
The ad, which began running weeks before Tuesday’s election, begins with Williams describing how Pugel went to work each day wondering whether he would find himself in a dangerous situation for which he hadn’t been trained. Pugel relates that Williams would like to be able to call her sister at the end of the day but can’t because she was killed by police.
“I was not there,” Pugel says during the ad, “but I know that every cop should be trained to de-escalate conflict.”
Those words, Pugel said in an interview Saturday, have generated “blowback” from current and retired police officers.
“Some of them say, ‘you’re damn right. You weren’t there. How can you judge?,”’ Pugel recounted.
He said he is not judging.
From “everything I know those officers are good, good officers, good human beings and the training was fairly adequate. All they got was a weird call,” Pugel said, without dissecting their actions.
What he is imparting, he said, is his experience in law enforcement, where he saw the trauma on all sides when deadly force is used. “It’s life changing,” Pugel said.
If more training can help avoid that– especially outside Seattle and King County where it already occurs – then that is what counts, he said.
Kevin Stuckey, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which opposes I-940, couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday.
One veteran Seattle officer, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said Pugel’s participation in the ad has angered many officers. “The word’s turncoat,” the officer said.
In a recent Facebook discussion, another officer wrote, “It’s not the first time nor the last time we have been thrown under the bus. I hope he doesn’t show up at the next cop funeral.”
Opponents of I-940 say it would waste millions of taxpayer dollars to retrain many of the nation’s best-trained officers, and that instead of running toward danger, officers fearing prosecution will hesitate, especially since confrontations often involve rapidly evolving situations requiring split-second decisions.
Pugel left the Seattle Police Department in 2014 at the rank of assistant chief, amid the fallout from federal oversight into the department’s use of excessive force. He finished his career as chief deputy of the Sheriff’s Office.
Pugel said he watched when the initiative’s backers got enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, was heartened when they reached agreement with law-enforcement leaders on a compromise bill to replace the initiative and disappointed when the state Supreme Court determined that the initiative must go to the voters without changes.
Someone from the campaign asked him to help, Pugel said, which prompted him to carefully study the measure.
He said he was comfortable with the prong in I-940 giving prosecutors greater leeway in charging officers by removing language from state law that requires they show malice, or evil intent, when using deadly force. The standard has made it almost impossible to bring charges.
Pugel calls the malice requirement a “significant outlier,” referring to it being only on the books in Washington state.
He is not a newcomer to criminal-justice reform. While in the Seattle Police Department, he embraced the introduction of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which in recent years has sought to divert low-level offenders addicted to drugs into treatment.
In his farewell letter to Seattle police, he urged officers to live to the philosophy of Sir Robert Peel, a British statesman who offered his nine principles of policing in 1831.
The letter quoted Peel: “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
Pugel said on the day the commercial was shot Williams told him that when she is with her children and Lyles’ children and they see police officers, she tries to take them to greet them.
“She wants to have them build trust,” Pugel said, his voice cracking with emotion.
“That really cemented it,” he said of his decision to do the ad.
“She’s trying,” Pugel said.