Early in the evening of July 7, 2016, the march in Downtown Dallas was peaceful. Executive Assistant Chief of Police David Pughes went home to handle a minor emergency.
“I get a call from the incident commander, the assistant chief, who says we have shots fired out here at the protest,” Pughes recalled. “As you can imagine, it's just chaos. Between the radio and the telephone, and I’m trying to figure out where should I go. That was the biggest challenge.”
Then, Pughes heard unconfirmed reports of officers down.
“By the time I do get to the downtown area, we get confirmation of two officers shot,” he recalled. “And they're going to take them to Parkland. So I decide that's where I need to be.”
But before Pughes got there, he was told the two officers passed away.
“I decide I need to turn around,” he said. “We've got other officers that are also injured that are headed to Baylor.”
There, Pughes saw the squad car shot up with bullets that rushed a mortally-wounded officer to a hospital filled with frantic, focused medical personnel and grieving police officers as he ran command.
“To see the emotions, the sadness — it's really unthinkable to have to go back and reflect upon what we saw on the officers’ faces,” he said.
That night, 11 people were shot. Nine of the injured were police officers. Five of them were killed.
As the bodies of three officers were escorted from Parkland Hospital, the man who would become interim Dallas police chief says it was the most memorable moment of that horrible night.
“As the officers leave Parkland, ‘What are we gonna do?’ And we knew we were gonna escort them out,” Pughes recalled. “And as we escorted them out, we became lined up in a formation.”
As 50 officers lined up to salute their fallen comrades, Patrick Zamarripa’s family went around to personally thank each officer.
“To have the family members come around that soon after the tragedy and say we did something that helped them, that's moving,” Pughes said. “Very moving.”
Interim Police Chief Pughes says the grassroots memorial outside of DPD headquarters created by North Texans will always stay with him and calls it part of the healing for police officers.
Pughes made it clear from day one that he doesn't want to be chief of police. He's been with DPD for almost 27 years and aims to be a stable transition between Chief David Brown and the man or woman who will become the new chief. He has three pieces of advice.
“As we prepare for the one-year anniversary, we're still hurting. The second thing to look at is we have to be open in our communication. There's been a divide between people out there on the streets that are trying to do the job and the command level people,” Pughes said. “The final piece is you've got to build strong community relations. The people that are not supporting the department — you got to reach out to them. You got to try and mend the fences.”
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reached out to Pughes and asked how he can help the department on the anniversary.
Cuban will host an awards dinner and ceremony for hundreds of Dallas police officers Thursday night at the American Airlines Center. Chief Pughes says he’s deeply grateful.