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Seattle Police Captain comments on WTO movie

Seattle Police Captain comments on WTO movie

By Scott Gutierrez
May 23, 2008

He didn't feel that far removed from the melee nine years ago, given he's had to relive it countless times in lawsuits against the city and in the analysis and controversy that followed.

But Pugel wanted to see director Stuart Townsend's film, anticipating questions about how it depicted the police department in a historic event still defined by images of body armor, tear gas, rioters and smashed storefronts.

Interviewed right after the film, here were his thoughts.

Overall, what were your impressions?

"Just being there and having been so involved in the seven weeks before and the seven years after in lawsuits and claims in court, it's very challenging for any director to try to capture what happened ... and try to portray it. I think the movie did portray what a tough crossfire those men and women of the Seattle Police Department were in during that time. We had specific directions as to which way the city wanted to go and the men and women of the Police Department did everything they were asked to."

Was there one part in the movie that stood out to you, one scene that you thought was wildly inaccurate or overly dramatized?

"Well, certainly the issue where the police officer's (pregnant) wife is hit and loses her child. That just never happened. I think the farther that historians get from Nov. 30, 1999, in Seattle, the more they come back to it and say, 'Wow, it's amazing that there were so few injuries and no one got seriously hurt.'

"The one thing that really jumped out was the use of the batons as portrayed in the movie. You'll never see a Seattle police officer raise a baton above their head in any real footage. It was very strict training and the courts affirmed that. Again, I'm not taking from the movie. You have to grab the attention of the audience, I think, to focus overall on the issues of the WTO."

What was it like to see some of that footage unfolding on the big screen?

"I've seen it a lot. Me, and several of the other commanders, have had to relive it in court. I think he -- the director -- did a really good job of splicing that into what his actual creation was."

What were your expectations going into it?

"I really didn't know. There have been some other artistic attempts at trying to capture it and it's incredibly difficult to capture. It was a harbinger event that really changed the way, for one, that protests are done throughout the nation and throughout the world. It also changed the way that police and government responded to them."

What were the lasting impacts on the Police Department?

"We got the best police chief in the nation as the result of that event. Chief (Gil) Kerlikowske came in and made numerous reforms. We now send police commanders around the nation and throughout the world to learn best practices. And much larger agencies since then, even at the various national conventions ... whenever there is big event now, honestly, they come to see how so few people, and I mean that, so very few people had any injuries ... and the injuries they had were minor."

Do you think it's a rental or a see-on-opening-night film?

"I think everyone should take a look at it. I'll let them be the judge."

P-I reporter Scott Gutierrez can be reached at 206-903-5396 or

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