David Brame's worst enemy: himself

NOT IMPLEMENTED

April 27, 2003 

I talked with David Brame on the phone Friday afternoon, only 24 hours before he tried to kill his wife and took his own life in a Gig Harbor parking lot.

Brame did not sound angry or distressed. He seemed in complete control of his emotions. He did not sound like a man who thought his career or his life was over.

Even after I spoke to Brame Friday and heard him deny he had ever threatened or abused his wife, Crystal, I had no inkling he was capable of such murderous rage and self-destruction.

Questions kept running through my mind after I learned the terrible news Saturday: Who knew?

Who could have known? Did anyone outside the couple's closest relatives have any idea how frayed the Brames' marriage had become, or that Brame was capable of such violence?

Count me among the many Tacomans who are stunned and disbelieving.

Brame called me Friday because I had sent him an email informing him we would publish an editorial Saturday about his marital troubles and his wife's allegations. If he had anything to discuss, I wrote, he should let me know.

This was a professional courtesy. It is only fair, I believe, to let someone whose reputation and career may be on the line to have a chance to defend himself before we publish judgment in our editorial columns.

In fact, I was surprised I had not already heard from Brame. Given the professional relationship we had developed as journalist and source, as editorial writer and public official, I thought he would call after his wife's accusations made headlines.

Brame had talked to me in strict confidence about police matters on more than one occasion.

Reporters and editors often talk off the record with the officials they cover.

The practice can be abused. But most of the time journalists and officials understand their respective roles, and journalists are careful not to let officials manipulate them in the process.

Perhaps there was one time David Brame tried to manipulate me. Was I manipulated? You be the judge.

In December 2001, Brame was named a finalist for the vacant chief's position. Soon afterward, he called and asked to see me. He could be at The News Tribune in 10 minutes, he said.

In a private conference room, Brame told me he thought he had a good chance of winning the chief's position.

"This is what I want to do," he said. "This is the last job I ever want to have. If I get it, I'm not going to go anywhere else. I love this department. I love this city."

But there was one more thing he wanted to tell me.

More than a decade ago, he said, a girlfriend filed an official complaint accusing him of threatening her with his gun. The department investigated, he said, and "exonerated" him, as he put it. The chief at the time, Ray Fjetland, subsequently promoted him twice, Brame pointed out.

He wanted to tell me this, Brame said, because he knew he had enemies who might bring the case to light to sabotage his appointment. He just wanted the newspaper to know just in case, he said. He wanted us to know that he had been cleared.

I thought at the time that Brame was trying to inoculate himself against potential bad publicity. But I also knew that Ray Fjetland was one of the most honest and upright cops I had ever met. And if Brame was good enough for Fjetland, he was good enough for me.

I watched Brame sworn in as chief at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall a month later. I saw Crystal and their two young children beaming at Brame's side as retiring Chief James Hairston swore him in as the city's 54th police chief.

I was moved by the ceremony, by the obvious pride that filled the hall as one of Tacoma's own, a native son and a 20-year department veteran, rose to the top.

"There's nothing easy about the tasks Brame faces," I wrote in the next day's editorial. "But he's setting out with the wind at his back - with a reputation for integrity, with broad support among his officers, with a city government and a public that will back him up in insisting on reforms and efficiency."

I quoted Brame: "I'm home, and this is where I'm staying." And here is how the editorial ended:

"Given the hazards of being an urban police chief today, it's dangerous to bet on the length of Brame's tenure. But right now, the odds seem good this native son will be Tacoma's chief a long time."

David Brame's tenure was exactly 15 months and nine days.

David Seago is editorial page editor of The News Tribune. His email address: david.seago@mail.tribnet.com

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