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Saturday, May 10, 2003

"She was the best mom in the world" - Seattle PI

...But those close to Crystal beg that she be remembered as more than simply a victim. She was a woman of uncommon grace and tenderness... She was also a woman who found the courage to seek a better life for herself and her children. "I think it took her a long time, but once she got her courage up, once she made up her mind, there was no going back," said Crystal's godmother, Judy Hellstrom of Tacoma. "She needed to get a happy life"...Crystal Brame mourned: 'She was the best mom in the world'

By ELAINE PORTERFIELD
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
May 10, 2003

GIG HARBOR -- When she saw a first draft of her mother's obituary, the 8-year-old girl decided she needed to add a few thoughts.

Taking it off the computer printer, she grabbed a pencil and carefully wrote out a few words on behalf of herself and her 5-year-old brother.

Their mother, she wrote, "always let them have play dates with their friends and she was the best mom in the world."

The little girl's family and friends added another thought to Crystal Brame's obituary: "Her children were the loves of her life and she lived each day for them."

Her estranged husband, Tacoma police Chief David Brame, made their children orphans. On April 26, he took his service pistol from his holster and cut down Crystal in a Gig Harbor parking lot as the youngsters sat in his car nearby. He then killed himself.

The two had been involved in a contentious divorce with allegations of domestic violence. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer revealed those allegations the day before the shooting.

On May 3, Crystal, 35, died in Harborview Medical Center. Hundreds are expected at her 11 a.m. funeral today at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, just down the hill from the Brames' former family home.

Yesterday was an official day of mourning in Tacoma, and people gathered at a downtown park for a ceremony honoring Crystal. Among those attending, The Associated Press reported, was City Manager Ray Corpuz, who is on paid leave during an investigation of his role in appointing Brame as chief.

But those close to Crystal beg that she be remembered as more than simply a victim. She was a woman of uncommon grace and tenderness, they say, a natural beauty. She was also a woman who found the courage to seek a better life for herself and her children.

"I think it took her a long time, but once she got her courage up, once she made up her mind, there was no going back," said Crystal's godmother, Judy Hellstrom of Tacoma. "She needed to get a happy life."

Her family and Crystal's family have been close for 40 years, sharing holidays and important events together. Hellstrom was Crystal's godmother. Crystal's father, Lane Judson, is godfather to Hellstrom's son Brad Chatfield.

Crystal, her little sister Julie and Brad were constant friends growing up, and their families affectionately called them the Three Stooges. For nine years in a row, the families vacationed together at Ocean Shores every August for a week of barbecues, sand castles and go-cart rides.

Chatfield, a public information officer with the state Senate, remembers an affectionate girl who although only two years older, mothered both him and her little sister.

"She was always concerned about how everyone else was doing," he said. "She always looked out for me and Julie. That transferred over to her as a mother."

When she started ice skating as a young girl, she gravitated to competitions. She and her sister for years would hit the ice every morning at 4 or 5 a.m. to get their practice in before school. And when she decided at age 11 or 12 to turn her attention to ballet, she naturally got parts in productions such as "The Nutcracker," he said.

"She was just successful at everything she did," Chatfield said.

In Crystal's case, there just isn't anything bad to say, said Chatfield, who wrote her obituary. "She was the best," he said simply.

His heart aches now knowing the allegations of the abuse Crystal made in her divorce court files: her husband backing her into a closet with his gun, threatening her life, controlling her finances, her weight, where she went and with whom she spoke. He wishes she had said something.

"Crystal didn't want to burden us with that," Chatfield said. He thinks now that she feared "we would have looked at her differently."

David Curry met Crystal at Tacoma's Mount Tahoma High. Curry, the student body president, and his twin brother, Dean, were both friends with Crystal. The three graduated together in 1986. He remembers a pretty, sweet and hard-working girl, a tiny girl barely 5 feet tall.

"She wouldn't be the most gregarious person, but she was nice to everyone," he said.

Curry noted that Brame was nine years older than Crystal and that the couple married when she was 23.

"I can easily understand how she could have been overwhelmed by the charisma of an older man," he said.

Crystal, who was on the school's Daffodil Court, part of a venerable Pierce County festival, graduated with honors. Her high school English teacher remembered her fondly.

"She was one of the hardest-working students," said Lee Whitehall, who is now retired.

"In my opinion, she was the student any teacher would want, the daughter anyone would want."

Crystal worked hard to please, Whitehall said.

"I'm sure she approached marriage the same way: 'All right, I'll just have to work harder at it,' " she said. "She was lovely, and that's the truth."

Suzanne Stewart of Tacoma, who went to high school with Crystal, remembers a physically strong and self-confident girl.

"She was very determined," Stewart said. "I was completely shocked by this (abuse). She was not the kind of person who would shrink away."

The two drifted apart after high school. Stewart feels bad about that. "You just keep wondering that if we had kept in contact ...," she said, her voice trailing away.

Close friends of Crystal, a homemaker, are a little harder to find in recent years. Hellstrom said she believes David Brame didn't want his wife to have friends. One constant, Hellstrom said, was her sister Julie Ahrens, who also lives in Gig Harbor.

"It's been very hard on her sister," Hellstrom said. "They roomed together at the University of Washington, both majored in criminal justice and both married a (man named) David."

Michael Conmy, a neighbor on the cul-de-sac where the Brames lived, said Crystal often had a stooped, tightly wound look to her body. That changed after she moved out, he said: On a visit to the home to collect some items, she held her head tall, and threw her shoulders back.

"There was a strength to her, a defiance to her," he recalled.

She stopped to talk with him, and suddenly began detailing how she had been abused, Conmy said. He was shocked to hear that about the police chief of Tacoma.

"She said that he had put a gun her head," he said. "She said that the threats (to her life) were continuing. ... It was like a bomb going off in my head."

One friend in recent years was Linda Lee Clarke, owner of the home-decor shop Seasons on the Bay in Gig Harbor. Crystal loved the shop and came by frequently.

Clarke said the young mother had to scrounge for spare change to make her small purchases, because her husband controlled their finances so tightly.

"I'd see her count out these nickels and dimes, and I used to say, 'You're entitled to half of everything,' " Clarke recalled, her voice rising.

Crystal took her husband into the shop during the holidays to persuade him to buy the family a tall, flocked Christmas tree for which she longed, Clarke said. Crystal wouldn't or couldn't simply buy the tree herself.

"God bless her, Crystal got her tree," she said.

Not long after Christmas, Crystal took Clarke aside at the shop.

"She said, 'I want you to be the first to know, I left him,' " she said. "I hugged her and said I was so happy. I was so proud. That was a big decision for her. It has to be when you're so frightened. ... It must have taken an awful lot of love for her children to make that decision."

P-I reporter Elaine Porterfield can be reached at 206-870-7851 or elaineporterfield@seattlepi.com

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Summary of witness statements

Excerpted from
Gig Harbor Police Supplemental Report
Incident No. GH030460.2

Synopsis: Interview of multiple witnesses.
Detective Kelly B. Busey

Date 5/6/03
Gig Harbor WA

Narrative:

On 4/26/03 at approximately 1600,1 was advised of a double shooting that had occurred in the city limits of Gig Harbor within the previous hour. I was assigned to interview all potential witnesses to this event. Following is a summary of these interviews:

[RL]
[RL] is employed as a senior paramedic with King County Medic One. He and his wife were driving into the parking lot of the Rite Aid/Sunset Grill shopping complex when he noticed several people running in various directions. His attention was drawn to a specific vehicle within the lot. The driver's side door was open and several people were standing near it. He parked next to the vehicle and got out. He observed a woman down on the pavement. She was prone and her head was partially under the adjacent car. He recognized that she had been shot in the head and he rendered basic airway maintenance first aid. He noticed a male in the car who was also injured and began basic airway management on him. When on-duty paramedics arrived, he briefly consulted with them and backed away from the scene. As he was departing the vehicle, he noted something stuck to the sole of his shoe. It appeared to be divorce paperwork bearing a female name.

[LC]
[LC] is the wife of [RL]. She was in the car with him as they entered the parking lot. She did not immediately recognize people running within the lot, but as they parked next to the victim vehicle, she observed two children visibly upset standing approximately 15-20 feet in front of the vehicle. She immediately went to comfort them and determine the problem. She turned around and saw the woman laying in a pool of blood on the parking lot surface immediately outside the driver's side door. She also observed a male laying back in the car. She heard someone mention that there had been a shooting. As [LC] attended to the girl, the girl told her "My daddy is a policeman and he's is very mean to mommy. I think my daddy has killed her. Please help my mommy. They're in a divorce." [LC] assisted in removing the children from the scene and notified police of their location.

[SS]
[SS] and his wife [B] were exiting the Rite Aid store and walking east through the parking lot toward their car. They both heard a car alarm that was coming from the area where they had parked. As they got closer, Steve heard what he recognized as two gunshots. Simultaneously, he observed two children (boy and girl) exit a maroon car parked next to his and run across the parking lot toward a black car (the victim vehicle). The car alarm was evidently sounding from the maroon car in which the children had been. As he looked in the direction of the gunshots, he saw somebody slump over in the black car from the driver's seat toward the passenger side. [SS] and his wife followed the children around the back of the black car and now observed the girl standing over a woman on the ground. Steve thought that the woman had been shot. His wife assisted in removing the children from the immediate area of the woman. [SS] called 911 from his cell phone and stayed on the line until law enforcement arrived. During the phone call, he observed a man remove a handgun from the vicinity of the victim vehicle and place it on the ground a safe distance away. [SS] stood near the gun until law enforcement arrived.

[BS]
[BS] described the same basic version of the events that [SS] had told me. She noted that as the children were running from the maroon car toward the black car, She heard the girl say "My dad's hurt my mom. Help her. Help her. My dad's mean to my mom." When she arrived at the black car, she observed both the female on the ground and the male in the car. She assumed that the male had shot himself, based partly upon what the girl had said. She moved the children a short distance away and stood by while paramedics treated the injured parties.

[KM]
[KM] and her husband were in the process of putting their children into their van which was parked a short distance away from the black car. She heard two loud "bangs" and thought at first this was a vehicle accident. She estimates the shots were separated by two seconds. She looked in the direction of the noises and noticed the two children running toward the black car. [KM] could see from her position that the driver's door to the black car was open and a woman was laying on the pavement beside it. [KM] began to go toward the car and by now, someone was attending to the injured woman. She then saw a male in the car and saw that his face.was covered with blood. [KM] then was drawn to the crying children and began to attend to them. She assisted in moving the children to the Hollywood Video store nearby. After obtaining identifying information from the children, she passed their names to a police officer at the scene.

[AM]
Alex Monro is the husband of [KM]. He told me the same sequence of events, except that he stayed with his own children at their van during the response to the incident. He did hear the two "bangs," but estimates that they were separated by one second. [AM] also saw a man carry a handgun away from the car and place it in another location of the parking lot.

[MM]
[MM] was sitting in the Sunset Grill Restaurant in a position where he could see out the west windows into the parking lot. He did not hear any noises, but observed several people running in the parking lot toward the area where he had parked his van. He immediately went into the parking lot and saw that the people were congregating at a black vehicle parked two spaces away from his van. He walked to the black car to get a better view and observed the injured woman laying on the ground in a pool of blood just outside the driver's door. [MM] noticed a shell casing on the ground outside the door of the black car and observed the injured male inside the car. He ran back into the Sunset Grill and instructed the employees to call 911 because there had been a shooting. He returned to where the injured woman lay and assisted as best he could.

[NL]
[NL] is an employee of Hollywood Video. That business shares the same parking lot as the location of this incident. While inside the store, she heard a loud noise that sounded like a car backfiring. One of her co-workers commented that it sounded like a gunshot. Soon, a person came into the business and instructed them to call 911 because someone had been shot. [NL] placed the call, but handed the phone to the co-worker. She went outside to investigate. She immediately noticed a woman running from the direction of the black car toward a van. The woman retrieved a towel and ran back to the black car. As she continued toward the black car, [NL] observed a man carefully carrying a handgun away from the car and placing it in another part of the parking lot. Continuing further, she saw the injured woman laying on the ground outside the driver's door of the vehicle. She saw that some people were already helping her and then noticed the crying children. She made contact with the children and the adults helping them and suggested that they move the children into her business. On the way to the store, the girl told her that her parents were getting a divorce. She then assumed that the injured woman was the mother of the children. She assisted in caring for the children for approximately 20 minutes. During this time, the girl (identified to her as Haley) disclosed that her father was taking her to Rite Aid, but when they arrived, they saw her mother. Their father instructed both children to wait in the car (maroon car) and he walked to the black car. The girt also made several other references to previous violent acts of domestic violence initiated by her father. [NL] was unclear whether these incidents happened this date or at an earlier time.

*Rodney Baker
Rod Baker was departing the Shuck's Auto Supply store in the same shopping center. As he was walking to his vehicle, he heard a "high-pitched funny sounding voice" in the parking lot. He looked around and noticed a woman standing outside the open door to the black vehicle. His view corridor allowed him to see directly along the driver's side of the black car and the car parked adjacent to it. There was evidently someone seated in the driver's seat, however he could not see inside the car. The woman was the one he had heard, although he could not make out what she was saying. He watched her for a few seconds and described her as leaning into the car, as if face to face with the person seated inside. Then, he heard her yell "Oh no...don't" right before he heard two quick gunshots. The woman fell immediately. Rod was adamant that there was less than one second between gunshots. He ran back into Shucks to alert employees to call 911. He went back toward the parking lot, however he could not determine who or where the shooter might be. When he saw a crowd of people gathering at the black car, he went to it and asked if anyone knew where the person who fired the shots was currently located. Someone directed his attention to the male in the car. Rod noted that the male was still breathing and decided to locate and isolate the gun. He described the injured male as being seated on the driver's side, but leaned way back over onto the passenger's seat. His feet were extended out the open door and were a few inches above the pavement. On the ground below his feet, Rod located the handgun. He picked it up by the end of the grip with two fingers of his right hand and moved it to another location. He directed a bystander [SS] to stay with the gun until law enforcement arrived. Since Baker touched the handgun, I asked if he would be willing to supply his own fingerprints for possible comparison to any prints taken from the handgun. He complied with this request and the fingerprint card is attached. Baker wanted to clarify that he felt the gunshots were too close together for it to be an intentional homicide/suicide attempt. I asked him what scenario he envisioned and he thought that the female may have been attempting to prevent the male from shooting himself when the gun was discharged.

All subjects interviewed provided written statements supporting their version and perspective of the events. I conducted no other interviews about this incident on this date.

Under penalty of perjury

Detective Kelly B. Busey
Date 5/6/03
Gig Harbor WA

*Note:I redacted the witness names. I left Rod Baker's since his extrapolations were published in a book .

Sunday, May 4, 2003

"Brame's wife dies; Tacoma in turmoil" - Seattle Times

...Yesterday, [Mayor Bill] Baarsma responded to a report in The News Tribune in which unnamed city government sources said the city attorney rejected advice the day before the shooting that the chief have his gun taken away. "I opened up my newspaper this morning and that was the first I heard about it," Baarsma said. "And at this point I'm numb. I guess I'm no longer stunned, I'm just numb"...


BRAME'S WIFE DIES; TACOMA IN TURMOIL

Questions surface whether warning signals were ignored
David Postman and Ray RiveraSeattle Times staff reporters
Seattle Times
May 4, 2003

TACOMA — On the day Police Chief David Brame was buried, and his estranged wife was declared dead, city officials were mired in a controversy over whether they ignored warning signs that foreshadowed the two deaths.

Brame's wife, Crystal, whom he shot in the head before turning his police revolver on himself one week earlier, died yesterday in a Seattle hospital.

The latest turn in the tragedy mixed uneasily with politics yesterday when City Hall began to struggle with the question: Who knew what, and when did they know it?

Last night, the City Council decided not to force City Manager Ray Corpuz Jr. on administrative leave. Some council members are questioning his role in the hiring, promoting and protecting of David Brame, despite early warnings about Brame's psychological fitness for the job and accusations by his wife and another woman that he was abusive.

The council said Corpuz will have no involvement in the investigations surrounding the case. But a majority said that when they consider a formal resolution Tuesday they will vote to keep Corpuz on the job.

The council began its emergency meeting with a moment of silence for the then-still alive Crystal Brame. By the time the meeting was done, she had been pronounced dead.

The mayor and at least one other council member donned purple ribbons and stickers that said, "Crystal, we believe you!"

The council appears split 6-3 in favor of keeping Corpuz.

"I've spoken to a lot of community leaders who are very concerned about putting the cart before the horse," said City Councilman Kevin Phelps. He said there had been no proof Corpuz has done anything wrong.

But others said the investigation could be hampered with Corpuz still in charge.

"The very fact that he continues to lead the government may lead others who serve under him to be a little reluctant to be completely open with the investigation," said Mayor Bill Baarsma.

Corpuz last night expressed sympathy to Crystal Brame's family, particularly her two children. He said it's important that the investigation be thorough and fair, and that he would work to rebuild trust in the city government.

Crystal Brame had appeared to be battling back, beyond doctors' expectations, but she deteriorated Friday night and was declared dead at 4:40 p.m. yesterday.

The news of her death was made public just as a group of women appeared in the council chambers to say she deserved better from public officials.

The group calling itself "Women for Justice," and handing out stickers supporting Crystal's allegations of abuse, urged the council to find someone other than the association of police chiefs to investigate the hiring of Brame and what led to the death of his wife.

"These are the same groups of people that have let her down, and to ask them to investigate their own is an outrage," said Debra Hannula, a Tacoma attorney.

David Brame rose from patrolman to chief of police despite a psychologist's report that he should not be hired by the Tacoma Police Department more than 20 years ago. Over the years, there have been red flags about his résumé, a rape allegation, an internal-affairs investigation and warnings that he should have his gun and badge taken away.

"What you hope you see come from this is somebody, if not the City Council as a body, rise up and really get a strong grip on where to take the city from here," said state Auditor Brian Sonntag, a Tacoma resident and former Pierce County official whose family has a prominent political history here.

"How do we regain confidence in city government?"

Corpuz, who hired Brame as police chief in December 2001, said he never knew about the psychologist's report nor the accusations that Brame had raped a woman. He says he relied upon the recommendation of then-Police Chief Ray Fjetland to promote Brame.

Tacoma power brokers lobbied council members to leave Corpuz in charge of the city.

"The political culture is imploding in on itself, and Ray Corpuz has always been at the top of that culture," said John Hathaway, publisher of the New Takhoman, a Web site that first reported on Brame's divorce filings that included allegations of domestic violence.

If not imploding, the town's political apparatus appeared paralyzed.

Yesterday, Baarsma responded to a report in The News Tribune in which unnamed city government sources said the city attorney rejected advice the day before the shooting that the chief have his gun taken away. "I opened up my newspaper this morning and that was the first I heard about it," Baarsma said. "And at this point I'm numb. I guess I'm no longer stunned, I'm just numb."

Before yesterday's City Council meeting, Baarsma conceded that the council should have acted sooner.

"Absolutely, there should have been a meeting early on discussing who knew what when?" he said.

The council yesterday did not question City Attorney Robin Jenkinson about whether top human-resources officials recommended pulling Brame's gun and badge on April 25, the day before the shooting.

Divorce records, in which Crystal Brame alleges her husband threatened her with a gun, were published in a newspaper report that day.

Human Resources Director Phil Knudsen and Assistant Director Mary Brown became concerned after learning that Crystal Brame had accused her husband in divorce proceedings of choking her and threatening her with a gun, the Tacoma News Tribune reported yesterday.

The city's legal advisers disagreed with that recommendation, saying the Brames' divorce was a civil matter in which the city had no business, the newspaper's sources said.

What Corpuz knew about Brame's history when he hired him as chief is among the issues being probed in an external investigation by The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

The city also has contracted the State Patrol for a separate investigation into acting Police Chief Catherine Woodard, who was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday over questions of her involvement with Brame. Crystal Brame had accused Woodard of threatening and intimidating her recently.

Corpuz was hired as city manager in 1990 after 12 years in city and county government.

"The city manager is the most powerful government figure in Pierce County. The city manager could always trump a city councilman," said state Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, a former veteran city councilman.

And he has powerful friends. Yesterday, former Mayor Mike Crowley, who was mayor when Brame was hired, and former Councilman Paul Miller, who said he pushed for Brame to get the chief's job, lobbied council members to keep Corpuz on the job.

"I think this witch hunt is bad for the community," Miller said. "There's only one man who pulled the trigger and only one man who's responsible for pulling the city apart."

State Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, who counts Corpuz as a friend, said the city manager wields his power quietly.

"You hardly know he was in the room, but after he leaves things start to happen," Flannigan said. "He says, `Here's three words and it explains where I stand.' "

Flannigan says the rebuilding of downtown Tacoma had a lot to do with the confidence local business leaders have in Corpuz.

Former City Councilwoman Nancy Davis said council members were briefed by Corpuz about the police chief search, but she never saw the personnel file or the city report that raised concerns.

"I wouldn't fault the city manager because I think he had a lot of pressure to promote from within by the union," said Davis, whose five-month tenure coincided with the chief search and Brame hire.

Pressures to bring someone up from inside came from police officers and local politicians.

In particular, there were objections to Corpuz's decision to hire outsider Philip Arreola as chief in 1996.

Arreola was replaced by James Hairston, a veteran Tacoma police officer. When Hairston retired, Kirby, the police union and others pushed Corpuz to hire someone from within the department.

But because of pressure to hire from within the department and the fact that Tacoma officials were close to Brame and thought they knew him, there was not a strong push for the sort of background check given to outside candidates.

"The chief was someone that many people in the city had known for quite a few years and the his performance on the job was already known and respected," said Councilman Doug Miller, who sided with Corpuz.

"I think it's worth some slack in that it's not like you're evaluating someone you've never met before or someone from another city. We had recommendations from past chiefs who had worked with him."

Kirby has been a longtime critic of Corpuz's and says, "I've been thinking Ray has probably outlived his usefulness for the past year or so."

But he doesn't think Corpuz should be fired because of the Brame hiring.

"I got to tell you, it's just when I look back I say to myself, `Gosh, was that ever a screwed up plan.' "

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com