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Tacoma Police Department ignored rumors of chief's violence

Monday, May 5, 2003

TACOMA, Wash. -- Rumors of violence had haunted police chief David Brame's career, but the department and city officials stood by him and he rose through the ranks.

By the time Brame shattered the silence with two quick shots from his service weapon, it was too late for anyone to hear the cries for help.

Crystal Brame, his estranged wife, lay on the pavement of a suburban parking lot, barely clinging to life after being shot in the head. With their two young children just steps away, Brame then turned the gun on himself.

In the week since the shootings that killed Brame and fatally wounded his wife, who died Saturday, disturbing new information about the late chief and what the department knew about his violence has emerged almost daily.

Brame was hired by the police department in 1981 even though he failed a psychological test and a police psychologist deemed him unfit for the job. He was accused of rape in 1989; no charges were filed, although his fellow officers at the time believed the accuser.

Just days before the April 26 shooting, Tacoma's power elite had closed ranks around Brame in the face of media reports about his wife's allegations of spousal abuse.

In divorce filings made public April 25, Crystal Brame said her husband had choked her, threatened her with a gun and tried obsessively to control her.

"He's been an outstanding chief," Mayor Bill Baarsma said when asked about the allegations.

"He's doing a great job," said city manager Ray E. Corpuz Jr., who appointed Brame as chief. "I'm not interested in exploring David's personal life at this time."

Even after his death, Catherine Woodard, who was briefly appointed acting police chief, called Brame "a good friend" and "a perfect choice" for the job. She said she knew of Crystal Brame's abuse allegations, but said: "Allegations made during contentious divorce proceedings frequently are found to be false."

On Thursday, Woodard was placed on paid administrative leave. According to 911 tapes released that day, Crystal Brame had reported on April 11 that Woodard had been intimidating and threatening her.

The State Patrol is investigating Woodard for possible criminal misconduct.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, meanwhile, is investigating Brame's rise through the Tacoma Police Department.

The investigation will look into the hiring, promotions and Brame's on- and off-duty conduct, including a report that the city's human resources manager recommended a day before the shootings that Brame's gun and badge be taken away.

The city manager said he didn't know about the recommendation, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Sunday.

While Tacoma's population of nearly 195,000 makes it Washington's third-largest city, it retains a small-town feeling. That clubbiness may have contributed to Brame's unchecked rise to power, said China Fortson, domestic violence specialist for the city's Human Rights Department.

"People say, 'He seems like a nice guy.' They don't hear the victims behind him. It's easier to see the good stuff," Fortson said. "There's a lot of politics, a lot of families that grew up together and know each other."

Brame's father and brother were both police officers. When he was appointed chief in 2001, Corpuz called him "a trusted insider."

However, three former or current police officers told The News Tribune that they believed Brame raped a woman on a date when he was a patrol officer in 1988.

Nothing came of the woman's complaint because she didn't go to authorities until months later, there were no witnesses, and Brame told police investigators she consented to having sex. A few months later, she said she got a letter from the then-chief saying her complaint was "not sustained," meaning it could not be proved, and that Brame would be sent to see a police psychologist, The News Tribune reported.

According to the newspaper, one of the officers told the woman in mid-March that the department was looking into Brame's actions, including the woman's allegations.

When Brame took over as chief in 2001, one of his first acts was to create a professional responsibility bureau to police the department.

"Our badge of office is a symbol of public faith," Brame wrote in a June 26, 2002, memo to his department. When a Tacoma officer was charged with rape and domestic violence last year, Brame said: "As police officers, we can never compromise our values and principles."

John Hathaway, who runs an Internet newspaper in the area, was the first to publish accounts of Crystal Brame's abuse allegations.

Afterward, Hathaway said, he got an e-mail from police union president Patrick Frantz that said, in part: "If you want to throw stones, you had better live in a bulletproof glass house." Frantz was placed on paid administrative leave last week pending an investigation into the e-mail.

"You're either with them, or they're against you," Hathaway said of the department.

On Saturday, the day Brame's wife died, Tacoma City Council members met to discuss the controversy surrounding police department and its support of Brame. Their only decision was to not place City Manager Corpuz on administrative leave during the investigation.


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