He hung on as long as he could.
Watertown police Sergeant Jeff Pugliese, a 41-year veteran of the force who exchanged gunfire with Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and later tackled him amid the chaos of the manhunt days after the blasts, has retired.
“I’m not ready to retire yet,” Pugliese, who last month turned 65, the state’s mandatory retirement age for officers, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I’d do another 10. I really do believe that it’s the greatest profession in the world. ... It’s just such a good feeling to do good things for people.”
On the night of the epic manhunt in Watertown, which unfolded days after the April 15, 2013, blasts that killed three people and wounded hundreds of others, Pugliese did heroic things at great personal risk, officials said.
He recounted the moment Tuesday when he and his fellow officers confronted Tsarnaev and his younger brother and co-assailant, Dzhokhar, who were heavily armed with guns and explosives. They had earlier fatally shot MIT police Officer Sean Collier late on April 18, 2013 as Collier sat in his patrol car.
Around 12:45 a.m, on April, 19, 2013, Pugliese said, he heard an officer call out on the radio that the vehicle the Tsarnaevs had carjacked had been spotted on Dexter Avenue in Watertown.
As Pugliese responded to the scene on foot, he said, the terrorists set off pipe bombs and two officers taking cover behind a vehicle shouted, “Sarge, Sarge, get down they’re shooting at us!” He said he later fired four or five rounds at Tamerlan Tsarnaev and was confident in the moment that he struck the suspect.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to be hitting this guy, I’m a good shot,’” Pugliese said. “He wasn’t reacting like he’d been shot.”
So Pugliese shifted tactics, he said, firing rounds at Tsarnaev’s feet, which he could see underneath the carjacked vehicle.
“I hit him a couple of times with my skip shots,” Pugliese said. “That’s when he realized I was there, and he came running out firing his gun at me.” There was a small chain link fence separating the two, he said, and at one point they were about six feet apart as Tamerlan’s gun jammed and he took off running.
He said he chased Tamerlan and tackled him, and two more officers helped place handcuffs on the bomber.
“That’s when one of the officers said ‘Sarge, Sarge, the other guy’s in the car,’” Pugliese said, adding that he leapt back and “felt the breeze of the car [Dzhokhar was driving] go right by my face” as it passed over Tamerlan.
Even after that, Pugliese said, Tamerlan was “still actively resisting,” despite the fact that Pugliese shot him nine times in the feet, ankles, and torso.
“He had so much blood on him,” Pugliese said, and afterward “my hands looked like I had red gloves on. My hands were just saturated with his blood.” Later, he said, he had to hold Tamerlan still with his foot as he waited for an ambulance, while other officers rushed to help wounded Transit Police Officer Richard Donohue.
Pugliese said he had to keep Tamerlan from rolling over, since he didn’t know at the time what else the bomber may have had on him. For his efforts, Pugliese was awarded the Medal of Valor in 2015 at the White House, among other awards.
“I proudly display it,” Pugliese said of medal.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died of the wounds he suffered during the manhunt, while his younger brother Dzhokhar was captured in Watertown and later convicted for his role in the blasts and sentenced to death. An appeals court later reversed that sentence, a ruling prosecutors are currently challenging before the US Supreme Court.
While his selfless acts during the manhunt will likely never be forgotten in his community, Pugliese, a Watertown resident and son of a former city police detective, said he mainly relished the countless opportunities on the job to help people in distress.
“I don’t know when the police became the enemy,” Pugliese said. “Yes, there are bad apples in policing, but there’s bad apples in every profession. Most of us take this job because we truly want to take care of people and make sure they’re safe.”
Watertown police Chief Michael Lawn praised Pugliese’s dedication to the job.
“He doesn’t want to leave,” Lawn said. “He loved the job and came to work every day with a great attitude. He’s done some great things over the years, that’s for sure.”