Jim Pugel, SPD Assnt. Chief, Brings Bucket of Chicken to Mentally Ill Youth Suing Cops, Asks for His Medical Records--Now Barred by Judge

An assistant Seattle Police chief, though he is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit by a now 20-year-old special-ed student accusing his officers of brutality, recently visited the student in a Harborview psychiatric ward and asked him for permission to access his medical records. The assistant chief, Jim Pugel, returned on another day with a bucket of chicken for the young hospitalized patient, who he's known for years. After reviewing the strange case, a federal judge last week barred Pugel from making further drop-in visits.

Pugel denies trying to influence the teen or improperly obtain the records. He says he has known Joseph (Joey) Wilson since he was in elementary school and was personally concerned. He says Wilson repeatedly called him requesting visits, and that his mother (but not his attorneys) supported his visits. Though he obtained a release for Wilson's records, he never obtained the records, he says.

"I am simply sympathetic to Joey's condition," says Pugel, who took his son, a friend of Wilson's, along for the visits, "and wanted to help him out in his very unfortunate position." Pugel says he has tried to walk the narrow line between legal complications and friendship for the youth, who even called out Pugel's name for help when he was being allegedly assaulted by police.

The special-ed student is suing for suffering a broken nose and a concussion after struggling with police during a July 2009 jaywalking incident. The four officers involved were exonerated by police, who said Wilson was combative and refused to get out of the street. Raw video (below) taken by a neighbor shows the takedown of Wilson, who continued to struggle and resist.

A month after filing his lawsuit in March this year, Wilson suffered a mental breakdown, according to court records, and was involuntarily committed for two weeks to Harborview's psych ward; he later volunteered for longer treatment. Pugel visited several times in May and at one point asked, with Wilson, for the records release in an attempt to discover his prognosis.

"The nurse explained that to provide information about Joey's condition he would have to sign a release," Pugel says. "She asked him if he wanted to do that and Joey agreed. I had no interest in his medical records, I just wanted to know what was going on with him to help in my conversations with him." He never did receive any records or verbal information about Wilson's condition, the chief says.

Joey "talked about wanting to buy the Sonics and wanted me to contact Gov. Gregoire to obtain his release," Pugel recalls. Wilson, who was raised mostly by his mother and saw Pugel as a father-figure, also asked him to adopt him, the chief says. "He was definitely disoriented but recognized both [son] Jimmy and I. He said he wished more people would visit him and asked us to return." On one of the visits, Pugel returned with a bucket of chicken for the teen, which he requested.

After hearing about the visits from Wilson's mother, Wilson's attorneys contacted the police department's attorneys and asked the visits be stopped and the signed release be returned.

In a response to Wilson's attorneys, SPD's attorneys called it an "utterly harmless development" and said Wilson's attorneys were "stretching zealous advocacy too far" by complaining. SPD's attorneys couldn't see "how a bucket of chicken from a caring non-party could adversely affect your client or your case."

Pugel is not specifically accused in Wilson's lawsuit but is one of the officers' managers, who are cited as a group in the suit. Wilson's attorneys saw the visits as a "sub rosa" effort to gain a legal advantage, and U.S. Magistrate Brian Tsuchida did see some adverse affects. He barred Pugel from any another further contact with Wilson, and said that if it turns out that Pugel did obtain any of Wilson's medical records, he'd want to hold a hearing on that.

"As an Assistant Chief of Police," Tsuchida said in his ruling last week, "Mr. Pugel likely plays a supervisory role in the training, discipline, and conduct of the individual Seattle Police officers who allegedly assaulted and falsely arrested plaintiff. A court should make efforts to safeguard a party from prejudicial contact where circumstances indicate the potential existence of an unfair advantage."

Pugel accepts the court's dictate but says he's sorry he can't see Wilson. "I truly care about him," he says.

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