Watertown gun battle detailed at Tsarnaev trial

Officers, witnesses describe powerful bombs thrown, exchange of gunfire in Watertown street

In the early morning of April 19, 2013, police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese jumped a chain-link fence from a backyard onto Laurel Street in Watertown and minutes later came within feet of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

“He was advancing at me, firing, and I was returning fire,” Pugliese, a 35-year veteran of the Watertown force, told a federal jury Monday. Pugliese believed he had hit Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but he was uncertain. He ran out of ammunition, and Tamerlan’s gun apparently locked.

“We looked at each other,” Pugliese recalled.


Then Tamerlan threw a gun at Pugliese, hitting him in the left biceps, before springing toward two other officers. Pugliese, momentarily stunned, gave chase and tackled Tsarnaev to the ground. They struggled, and other officers joined in to help subdue Tamerlan before they heard the roar of an engine. A Mercedes-Benz SUV driven by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was racing directly toward them.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“I could feel the breeze of the vehicle go by my face,” Pugliese testified. He stepped off the witness stand and reenacted how he tried to pull Tamerlan Tsarnaev out of the way of the speeding vehicle, but he was too late. Pugliese jumped back. The Mercedes-Benz struck Tamerlan Tsarnaev and dragged him roughly 30 feet, killing him.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is now on trial, sped away.

Pugliese and other witnesses testified in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial Monday about the firefight in Watertown that took place four days after the Boston Marathon bombing. Police officers recounted how they tracked the brothers to Watertown after a carjacking in Cambridge. They described the gunshots and explosions, one so thunderous it nearly brought an officer to his knees.

Richard Donohue, a Transit Police officer with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, was shot during the firefight, and other police officers who testified Monday said they thought he was going to die. However, no witness testified about who shot Donohue.


“He was unresponsive, not breathing, and his heart wasn’t beating. He was essentially dead,” testified Dr. Heather Studley, an emergency room physician who treated Donohue at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. Studley and other hospital staff were able to revive Donohue with a series of blood transfusions. He spent a month in the intensive care unit.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fled that night in the Mercedes-Benz but was caught the following evening hiding in a boat parked in a Watertown yard, several blocks away from the shooting scene.

On Monday morning, jurors visited the boat at a warehouse in South Boston along with the judge, lawyers, Tsarnaev, and two representatives from the media. The red boat had at least 108 bullet holes, and jurors were elevated on a lift so that they could see inside, where Tsarnaev wrote what prosecutors say was a confession to the Marathon bombing.

The 21-year-old faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted for his role in the bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260. He and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also shot and killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier and tried to steal his gun before carjacking a Chinese businessman and stealing his Mercedes-Benz SUV and attempting to flee the area.

One of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers admitted her client’s guilt during opening statements. But because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers have sought to show that his brother was the mastermind and Tsarnaev should be spared the death penalty.


On multiple occasions Monday, Timothy Watkins, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, used witness testimony to show that it was the older Tsarnaev brother who fired at police officers in Watertown and exchanged gunfire with Pugliese. In one photo shown to jurors Monday, Tsarnaev appears to be crouching behind his older brother.

The prosecution called witnesses Monday to testify about how authorities used the stolen Mercedes-Benz’s tracking system to track the brothers to Dexter Avenue, a residential area in Watertown.

Police Officer Joseph Reynolds was the first to find them. The Mercedes-Benz was following a green Honda, and as Reynolds approached, he could see that the license plate matched the one that had been broadcast to law enforcement. He later learned that the driver was Tamerlan. “We locked eyes with each other,” he testified. Reynolds turned the car around to follow them as they took a left turn onto Laurel Street.

When he turned on his lights, Tamerlan stepped out of the Mercedes-Benz and began shooting at him and running at him, Reynolds testified. Reynolds ducked down, backed his cruiser to a safer position, and fired back.

Watertown police Sergeant John MacLellan then arrived and let his car roll toward the Tsarnaev brothers to distract them while he took a position behind a plum tree. He could see the brothers throwing pipe bombs, he testified, and they each had their own throwing style — Tamerlan’s was like a baseball pitcher, Dzhokhar’s like a hook shot — though two of the bombs did not go off.

Then, Reynolds and MacLellan recounted, they saw a larger bomb being thrown, and the explosion was thunderous. Reynolds’s knees buckled. MacLellan became so disoriented he had to reholster his gun.

James Floyd, a resident of Laurel Street, said the gunfire awoke him and his wife. They moved their newborn child to the rear of the house before looking out the second-floor window to witness the firefight.

Floyd said he saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev struggle to throw a large book bag containing what he later learned was a pressure cooker bomb. “The thing did not make it far before it blew up,” he said. Floyd said there was a blinding light. Pictures fell off his wall. “The scene was very smoky,” he said.

Andrew Kitzenberg, a neighbor, took pictures but lay on the floor when he saw Tsarnaev throw the backpack. “It shook my bedroom,” he testified. “I could see the cloud of smoke going up.”

Pugliese, who was cutting through backyards to flank the brothers, said he could feel things falling on his head, and at first he thought it was shingles from rooftops.

“I heard a loud explosion, and a big flash, a huge plume of smoke,” he testified. “It kind of stunned me for a moment.”

He continued on, around the house, and toward the driveway, where he could see the brothers hiding by the Mercedes-Benz, spotlighted by the street lamp. He shot several times at the ground, trying to ricochet bullets under the cars. Tamerlan noticed him.

“I saw him looking at me; he came charging up the street, firing at me,” Pugliese recalled.

The boat was driven into a site in Boston early this morning.
The boat was driven into a site in Boston early this morning.

A sketch depicted jurors examining the boat in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured.
Art Lien
A sketch depicted jurors examining the boat in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at