Watertown Police Sergeant Jeff Pugilese, Who Took Down Marathon Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Retires
WATERTOWN (CBS) — Watertown Police Sergeant Jeff Pugilese loves his job today as much as he did when he joined the force 41 years ago.
“I look forward to going to work,” he told WBZ-TV. “It’s exciting and you get to help a lot of people…It’s incredible.”
He calls policing “the finest profession in the world to have”.
It is a career that Pugilese would never choose to leave. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a choice. In Massachusetts, police officers must retire at the end of the month in which they turn 65.
Pugilese celebrated his birthday ten days before what will be—his final roll call on May 31.
“He can’t work anymore as a police officer. It’s mandatory retirement. So it is what it is,” his wife Connie explained. “It will be great to have him home more often. It’s important that he’s happy.”
What makes Pugilese happy is working with people. From his first assignment on a walking route, on which he got to know people in the East End area, he knew he was in the right career. He says it taught him how to interact with people. Pugilese grew up in Watertown and knew the streets like the back of his hand. What’s more, his father was a Watertown Police detective.
“I knew I wanted to do this when I was about 16 years old. I decided I wanted to be a police officer.”
Pugilese enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17 years old, went into the service at 18 and became a military police officer. He was stationed in Germany where he met Connie.
They moved to Massachusetts, as a couple, in 1978.
Pugilese describes the most exciting day of his career as the day he received the call that he was going to be appointed as a police officer. He became a national hero almost 34 years later when he took down Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev on the night of the Watertown shootout.
“We didn’t know what or who we were dealing with,” he recalls. “We just thought it was a carjacking.”
Not long after the Tsarnaev brothers sped into Watertown in a stolen SUV (and after killing MIT Police Officer Sean Collier), Pugilese found himself face-to-face with Tamerlan.
“We were just xix feet, maybe seven feet apart. The only thing separating us was a four-foot chain link fence. We were exchanging gun fire and his gun, now we know it ran out of ammunition but, at the time we didn’t know if it jammed. He stopped. He literally took the gun, looked at me, we made eye contact, and then he threw the gun at me and hit me in the shoulder with it. I holstered up and chased after him and tackled him.”
Seconds later, when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sped toward Pugilese and the two other officers holding his brother to the ground, Pugilese grabbed Tamerlan by the belt to pull him out of the path of the SUV.
“I felt the breeze of that car go by my face. It missed my face by inches.”
Dzhokhar ran over his older brother who was pronounced dead at the hospital. Never before in his career—or since—has Pugilese had to fire his weapon.
“It does have an affect on you,” he reflected, “You think how lucky you were to survive it. It’s just very difficult to put into words.”
He says policing has changed dramatically over the course of his career. More social work on the job, more domestic violence situations (physical and verbal) and a smaller Watertown PD staff.
But what has not changed is Pugilese’s sense of duty, his pride and his sense of connection to the community. He says he will miss driving around and talking with people and the camaraderie at Watertown PD.
“We have a lot of laughs. There’s close-knit stuff because of the stuff you have to deal with and it brings everybody together.”
Asked what advice he would give younger officers, Pugilese does not hesitate, “Be proud of the profession. Don’t dishonor the uniform. You’re there to help people, not hurt people.”
At his final roll call, Pugilese was flanked by family members (including nephews and cousins also serving in law enforcement) and a room full of fellow officers. Actor J. K. Simmons (who portrayed Pugilese in the 2016 film Patriots Day) sent a videotaped message of congratulations. But the celebration was bittersweet.
“I’m not ready to retire yet,” he said wistfully.
Connie half-joked that he can do yard work and help his son with domestic projects and Pugilese was recently certified as a safety officer for work on construction sites. But there is no question that the job he would enjoy most is the one he has enjoyed for 41 years.
“I love this profession. I really do.”