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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Agonizing issues linger in Brame case - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

...Tacomans demanded answers. They wanted accountability. They wanted to know how a man like David Brame - who, it was soon discovered, had failed psychological tests when he applied to become a police officer, had been accused of rape after he joined the department, and had abused his wife after he had become chief -- could rise to the top law enforcement job in one of Washington's largest cities...

Agonizing issues linger in Brame case
Progress and pain a year after slayings that rocked Tacoma

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
By Jeffrey M. Barker
Saturday, April 24, 2004

TACOMA - Among the many ways to measure a year, there is the way a young boy who has lost his mother reacts to a Disney movie in which a young brown bear's mother dies.

Another way to measure a year: take an accounting of those who have come and gone - retired, or been fired, resigned or been placed on paid administrative leave.

There are also new laws and protocols. There are soon-to-be-completed investigations. There is the heightened sensitivity to issues of domestic violence. There are lawyers' fees.

One year ago Monday, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame confronted his estranged wife, Crystal, in the parking lot of a Gig Harbor shopping center. He fatally shot her and killed himself, while the couple's two children - 5 and 8 years old at the time -- waited in a car nearby.

The tragedy ripped open the city of Tacoma, revealing ills within its Police Department and City Hall.

Tacomans demanded answers. They wanted accountability. They wanted to know how a man like David Brame - who, it was soon discovered, had failed psychological tests when he applied to become a police officer, had been accused of rape after he joined the department, and had abused his wife after he had become chief -- could rise to the top law enforcement job in one of Washington's largest cities.

People here, having lost faith in their local leaders, wanted change. Some even petitioned to change the form of the city's government.

But little has happened. Or perhaps much has happened. It depends on which way you choose to measure a year.

Two children with questions

"It seems like this happened just two months ago," said Julie Ahrens, sitting at her kitchen table recently, trying to sum up the past year. "It doesn't get easier."

Ahrens is Crystal Brame's sister. She and her husband, David, now care for the Brames' children. The Ahrens won custody of Haley, 9, and David Jr., 6, in August.

"It's a reminder every day that their mom isn't here for them. We need to be here for them," Julie said.

The children have remained in the same school and continue with their normal activities, the Ahrens said. It's an attempt to make "life as normal as possible." Julie, for example, took a long-term leave of absence from her job so she can be at home at all times, just as the kids' mother used to be.

But Haley and David Jr. also receive counseling and sometimes ask questions about their parents. Recently they watched "Brother Bear," a cartoon movie about a baby bear whose mother has been killed by hunters. At the end of the movie, the bear sees his mother again as a spirit who rises to heaven.

"They had been begging and begging to watch it for weeks," said Julie. "It upset David. I used it as an opportunity to sit down and talk about things."

Now it's the boy's favorite movie. He watched it four times in one week.

"You can't always shield them from everything forever," Julie said.

The Ahrens, along with Crystal's parents, Lane and Patty Judson, continue to pursue a lawsuit seeking the truth of how David Brame got to be police chief and how his meltdown went unaddressed within the city and the Tacoma Police Department.

The Brames did not have to die, the family says. There were people who could have done something to prevent Brame from pulling the trigger on his department-issued .45-caliber handgun one year ago.

When family members initially filed their claim with the city in July they asked for $75 million, but they say they were willing to lower that number dramatically in return for the truth.

"To have to negotiate for the truth is frustrating," David Ahrens said.

The lawsuit has been stalled. Judges bowed out. Court venues were changed.

"A civil lawsuit is the only way we're ever going to find the truth," said Paul Luvera, a Seattle attorney working on the family's behalf.

He uses that lawsuit to measure the year, saying that if the city had been open and honest about the events that led up to last April 26 -- as many leaders said they wanted to do -- perhaps there would be no lawsuit.

"I think we would have been past this case by now," Luvera said. However, he has yet to take a single deposition.

Tim Gosselin, one of the attorneys representing Tacoma in the lawsuit, also said the case could have been settled long ago.

"The city made a very genuine effort to try to resolve this case very early on," Gosselin said.

But now, the city has a duty to defend against the suit and try to save taxpayers from paying out a large award, he said.

In Luvera's view, very little has happened in the past year.

"No one has been held accountable. No one has been disciplined," Luvera said. "What's happened in the past year in Tacoma: further scandals."

HE LISTED THEM:

Accusations and denials of bribery of a police officer by a local architect.

The arrest of former City Manager Ray Corpuz on a drunken-driving charge.

Police Lt. Joe Kirby filing a $500,000 claim against the city, alleging harassment for being listed among people to be interviewed in the Brame investigation.

The state auditor condemning the city for sloppy accounting.

Another police officer accused of beating his wife.

CHANGES IN COMMAND

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma has a different take.

"The city's done all it can do," Baarsma said recently, counting off the number of investigations, committees, policies and leadership changes he attributes directly to the Brame tragedy.

"We have a new police chief, a new command staff. We have a new city manager. We have a new City Council," he said.

Indeed, there have been many changes at the top in Tacoma. Don Ramsdell has taken over the Police Department. Former Assistant Chief Catherine Woodard, a friend to Brame who is named in the lawsuit against the city and who briefly took over as chief after the suicide, has retired. Bill Meeks, another close friend of Brame's and a member of his command staff, voluntarily took a demotion in September.

Corpuz, who is also named in the suit and was responsible for promoting Brame to chief, was fired last year. His second-in-command, Jim Walton, was named city manager, and has agreed to stay on until the City Council can find a replacement.

The City Council got three new members in the November elections. Most of the new members campaigned for more open government and greater accountability within City Hall.

Also, in February, the Tacoma Police Department unveiled new protocols on how to deal with domestic violence cases involving officers.

"The good thing is, at least they have a policy," said Lara Herrmann, a Tacoma lawyer who last year helped lead Women For Justice, a group that first proposed a state law on domestic-violence policies in Crystal's honor. "But the question is: Is that policy effective?"

Herrmann, who now helps officers' spouses who have been victims of domestic violence, said the past year has seen a heightened awareness of domestic violence.

But it has not seen a restoration of public confidence in local government, she said. The city has not cleaned house and become transparent, as leaders had promised, she said.

"Here we are, a year later, and I can say that my city has failed me, failed the taxpayers of Tacoma, failed the Judson family."

Two investigations into the city administration -- tracing Brame from his hiring, through his promotion to chief, to the day of the shootings -- were delayed but are wrapping up. The city expects to receive the reports -- one by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the other by the Washington State Patrol -- next month.

The State Patrol had concluded that no criminal acts had occurred. It is now looking into whether anyone violated city or Police Department policy. The sheriffs and police chiefs investigation will be handed to a citizens committee that was formed by former Deputy Mayor Bil Moss.

In addition, the FBI continues to scour Tacoma, looking into allegations of government corruption.

If any wrongdoing is outlined in the reports, Baarsma said, "action will be taken."

COUNTING FOR SOMETHING

"At some point, something positive has to come of this," David Ahrens said, "because there's been so much negative."

He said the family owes it to Crystal -- and to her children and the grandchildren who may one day be born -- to make sure she made a difference in this world. And for now, that means pressing the lawsuit until everything is clear, and someone is held accountable.

"The longer this drags out, the more determined the family gets," attorney Luvera said.

REMEMBERING CRYSTAL

Some of those who rallied to support Crystal Brame and other victims of domestic violence ask that people honor her by wearing purple ribbons on Monday and observing a moment of silence at the time she was shot: 3:10 p.m. Her family has set up a Web site inviting tributes: www.remembercrystal.com/

P-I reporter Jeffrey M. Barker can be reached at 206-870-7852 or jeffreybarker@seattlepi.com

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/170556_brame24.html

Friday, April 23, 2004

"A case against 'Tacoma Immunity" [New Takhoman]

...Who in the police department and city government were aware that Brame had been accused of rape and domestic violence?...Who else has a gun and badge that failed their psychological screening?...


Letter to the Editor of The NewTakhoman

A case against 'Tacoma Immunity
ON THE MURDER OF CRYSTAL BRAME

The New Takhoman
Robert Shambeau, Tacoma
April 23rd, 2004
Vol 4, No 80

The real problem is an epidemic of elitism. Both Brame and Corpuz demanded loyalty above all else. Unfortunately, most of their collective appointments have yet to be removed from office. Arrogance amongst the city government's top officials has and will cost the taxpayers dearly. After all, it isn't actually their money being spent to defend their reckless actions. In the end, the city will be exposed for a huge liability for Crystal Brame's wrongful death. All of the facts have yet to come out and already the case against the city is overwhelming. How many trial lawyers have the luxury of having the fruit of independent investigations to make their case? Not to mention the prying eyes of the media, who are still publishing even more of Brame's many indiscretions, and the city's woeful lack of oversight.

Remember, just days before the shootings, Baarsma was telling the media that Brame was doing a 'stellar' job. Was his conduct really 'stellar', or was the mayor oblivious to the actions of his golden boy? Then there is Corpuz, who untruthfully told the media that there had been no calls for an investigation of Brame, when in fact he told Woodard two weeks prior that an anonymous complaint would not be investigated?

The city council has already tacitly admitted liability by making Brame's family an offer of $8 million dollars. It seems like every two weeks new failings of Tacoma city government are published. As the discovery phase of the lawsuit is about to unfold, ask yourself some key questions. What will happen when Luvera gets a hold of ALL of the psychological screenings from all current and former police officers? What will happen when not if, under oath, key witnesses and or defendants contradict each other?

If it isn't already obvious, a clear pattern of negligence is emerging. From Brame's questionable hiring through his abysmal appointment to Chief, to his meltdown witnessed by everyone at the top, then on to clear warning signs of depression, desperation, obsession, harassment, abuse of power, and finally irrational anger. Can you imagine being a high ranking cop or city official with something to hide facing Luvera's deposition?

There is a very small and shrinking group who actually thinks that in the end, the city isn't liable for Crystal Brame's murder. Among the many things this group fails to see is that by allowing the case to make its way through the court system is that the entire city government and especially the police department will lose its credibility. How many 'baby brame' lawsuits will follow? Ray Roberts, Jim Swilley, Valencia Brooks, Brame's sexual harassment victim, even the New Takhoman's John Hathaway and Phil Knutsen.

Here is a quote from one of the attorneys hired by the city:

"There's a difference between a moral or ethical obligation and a legal obligation," Novasky said. "The question in litigation like this is: Was the city legally obligated to respond or protect Crystal or take action against David Brame based on information it did or did not have? The answer is ultimately what the court decides or the jury decides."

Maybe Novasky should take the time to read RCW 10.99.030? Here are some of the highlights:

1) All training relating to the handling of domestic violence complaints by law enforcement officers shall stress enforcement of criminal laws in domestic situations, availability of community resources, and protection of the victim. Law enforcement agencies and community organizations with expertise in the issue of domestic violence shall cooperate in all aspects of such training.

2) The course of instruction,.... focus on enforcing the criminal laws, safety of the victim, and holding the perpetrator accountable for the violence. The curriculum shall include ... the importance of criminal justice intervention, techniques for responding ... that promote victim safety, investigation and interviewing skills, evidence gathering and report writing, assistance to and services for victims and children, verification and enforcement of court orders, liability, and any additional provisions that are necessary to carry out the intention of this subsection.

(5) The primary duty of peace officers, when responding to a domestic violence situation, is to enforce the laws allegedly violated and to protect the complaining party.

(6)(a) When a peace officer responds to a domestic violence call and has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, the peace officer shall exercise arrest powers with reference to the criteria in RCW 10.31.100. The officer shall notify the victim of the victim's right to initiate a criminal proceeding in all cases where the officer has not exercised arrest powers or decided to initiate criminal proceedings by citation or otherwise. The parties in such cases shall also be advised of the importance of preserving evidence.

(b) A peace officer responding to a domestic violence call shall take a complete offense report including the officer's disposition of the case.

(10) Each law enforcement agency shall make as soon as practicable a written record and shall maintain records of all incidents of domestic violence reported to it.

Key questions the people have a right to have answered:

Who in the police department and city government were aware that Brame had been accused of rape and domestic violence?

To what extent did then Mayor-Elect Baarsma lobby for Brame's appointment for Chief?

What really happened during the April 25, 2003 Human Resources/City Attorney meeting?

Assuming that the Jenkinson version of the meeting is true, then the more important question is: Why wasn't she concerned about the Chief's off duty conduct?

Who else has a gun and badge that failed their psychological screening?

What will be the official policy of city leaders with regards to intimate relationships of city employees?

How long can a city employee remain on administrative leave while an investigation is pending?

When will the recommendations of the Buraker audit be implemented?

When will the citizens of Tacoma get civilian oversight of the police department?

How much would it of cost to keep Tacoma's liability policy at $20 million?

Who made the decision to drop the insurance coverage?

What is the threshold of evidence and testimony that will trigger an internal investigation?

Who stonewalled the investigation into Brame's misconduct?

If the city did nothing wrong, why did they adopt a domestic violence policy?

Does anyone in the city attorney's office have a pre existing relationship with any lawyers at Burgess Fitzer?

Why wasn't either of the Brame's allegations of domestic violence, submitted under penalty of perjury, investigated?

Monday, April 19, 2004

"Tacoma city attorney jumps ship" [Business Examiner Daily]

Tacoma city attorney jumps ship
Business Examiner Daily
Local Business News for April 19, 2004

Tacoma's City Attorney Robin Jenkinson has resigned from her post to accept a similar position with the City of Kirkland.

As Tacoma's City Attorney, Jenkinson supervised a team of 47 employees, including 25 civil, utilities and criminal justice attorneys.

"I had the good fortune of working in the Legal Department at a time when some very exciting projects were taking place in Tacoma, such as the Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, Thea Foss Landing and the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center," said Jenkinson.

She also has the misfortune of having been among city officials some critics contend failed to take actions that could have to prevented the murder/suicide of Crystal Brame and Tacoma Police Chief David Brame.

Jenkinson's last day with the city will be April 30.