Tacoma's top two Human Resources officials said Friday that they asked the city's top lawyers to help them seek administrative leave for Police Chief David Brame one day before he fatally shot himself and his wife.
Phil Knudsen, Human Resources director, and Mary Brown, assistant director, disputed statements made earlier this week by Tacoma City Attorney Robin Jenkinson, who said they suggested no action against Brame during the April 25 meeting.
Knudsen, Brown, Jenkinson and chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli met that day after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on allegations in divorce papers that Brame may have choked his wife, Crystal, and threatened her with a gun.
"At that meeting on April 25, we specifically said that, in our judgment, Chief Brame should be placed on administrative leave, which, in accordance with long-standing standard practice, would include him relinquishing his badge and service revolver, as it would for any other officer," Knudsen and Brown's statement reads.
Knudsen and Brown also said that assistant city attorneys have worked jointly with Human Resources officials to place police officers on leave, and those attorneys know the process involves taking away an officer's gun and badge, Knudsen said.
In an interview Friday with The News Tribune, Knudsen and Brown confirmed the newspaper's May 3 account of the meeting based on unnamed sources.
The Human Resources managers on Friday said they felt free to speak now that both have been interviewed by investigators piecing together answers in the Brame case.
But their account of the meeting contrasted sharply with that of Jenkinson, who held a press conference about the meeting Wednesday.
She maintained that Knudsen and Brown never suggested pulling Brame from duty or taking his gun or badge, nor did they recommend any "immediate or longer-term action" of any kind.
"I'll just stand by my statement. There's really nothing that I have to add to the statement I made," Jenkinson said Friday.
Jenkinson also maintained this week that "under the city's organizational structure" Knudsen and City Manager Ray Corpuz - not the city attorney - could have placed Brame on leave. Knudsen maintains that Corpuz is the only one who could initiate such an action.
As a senior department official, Knudsen acknowledged Friday that he could have taken his case to put Brame on leave directly to Corpuz on April 25.
As a practical matter, Knudsen said, he felt he needed another senior official to corroborate his concerns to convince the city manager to take such an action. Corpuz already had stated publicly that he had no intention of investigating Brame based on divorce allegations he called a "civil matter."
On a personal level, Knudsen said he regrets not going to Corpuz.
Choked with emotion, Brown said she lies awake every night replaying her decisions.
"When I think about those little kids, it's really hard," she said of the Brames' two young children, brushing tears away.
Knudsen added: "I keep telling Mary (Brown), it's outside our control.
"Brame was the son of a bitch that pulled the trigger. He didn't have to be chief of police to pull the trigger.
"He didn't have to have a service revolver," Knudsen said. "He didn't have to have a badge, because I think he was going to kill her."
Knudsen and Brown differ in their exact recollections of the April 25 meeting. They differ about whether the exact phrase "gun and badge" was ever used in context of putting Brame on leave.
Brown insists she heard Knudsen use the phrase when he turned his head to say something like, "If this was any other officer, we'd take his gun and his badge." Brown concedes that the attorneys present may not have heard Knudsen say it.
Knudsen said he wasn't "100 percent sure" that he uttered those words, but unequivocally states he urged administrative leave for Brame.
"Unless I am 100 percent certain that I said something, I'm not going to say I said it," Knudsen said of asking for Brame's weapon. "I am 100 percent certain I said 'put him on admin leave' or 'put him out on leave.'"
But both said that because a police officer was involved, the threat of stripping his gun and badge was implicit. It's standard procedure to turn those in during administrative leave, a fact city attorneys would have known, they said.
In an interview with The News Tribune, Brown and Knudsen made several other assertions:
•Aside from discussing administrative leave on April 25, Knudsen said he told attorneys he was concerned that Brame may have misused his service weapon, as outlined in Crystal Brame's divorce allegations.
Pauli said Friday that she thinks this may have been mentioned in discussing the domestic violence allegations.
•In that same April 25 meeting, Brown and Knudsen said they told attorneys it was improper for assistant chief Catherine Woodard, as Brame's subordinate, to accompany him to Crystal's parents' house. Divorce attorneys consented to the arrangement, Brown recalled being told. Pauli agreed that this was said.
•Brown and Knudsen told Corpuz in 2001 during the police chief hiring process that a "high-ranking police official" passed along unspecified domestic violence allegations that involved David and Crystal Brame. Corpuz said it would be inappropriate for him to comment, given the investigation.
•Brown on Friday filed a whistleblower complaint in her office alleging that she felt pressured and "threatened" to alter her recollections of the April 25 meeting to conform to a proposed joint statement between the two departments.
Last week, in two separate meetings, city officials attempted unsuccessfully to close the gaps between the two departments' versions of events, Brown and Knudsen said. Brown said talks broke down after she refused to agree to a suggestion that "gun and badge" were never mentioned.
City spokeswoman Carol Mathewson declined to comment, saying that she was not aware of the complaint.
Knudsen and Brown said they feel that city leaders and employees have had to tolerate unbearably difficult circumstances: Crystal and David's deaths, an investigation, and intense after-the-fact scrutiny. They said they also struggle with differing in public with colleagues they admire.
"We're ready for the healing process to begin," Knudsen said.
Staff writer Kris Sherman contributed to this report.
Martha Modeen: 253-597-8646
STATEMENT FROM HUMAN RESOURCES OFFICIALS
Statement of Phillip Knudsen, human resources director, and Mary Brown, assistant human resources director, dated May 30:
"The citizens of Tacoma deserve nothing less than a full and open discussion of the facts and events surrounding the hiring and promotion of David Brame, as well as the events immediately preceding his death. As human resources professionals, we were pleased with the City Council's decision to waive the attorney-client privilege. We expect the waiver will provide a level of openness that would not otherwise be possible.
"In that spirit, we provide this statement to correct a public misstatement regarding the meeting on Friday, April 25th. Late that afternoon, Phil initiated the meeting with the City Attorney's Office, specifically Chief Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli and City Attorney Robin Jenkinson. We were greatly concerned by the media reports that morning regarding Chief David Brame's divorce, which included allegations of domestic abuse and use of his service weapon to threaten and intimidate his wife. This type of meeting is not unusual. Human Resources often consults with the City Attorney's Office on serious and/or high-profile personnel issues. We did so before this tragedy and have continued to do so since.
"Given the limited information we had at that time, we did not, and could not, foresee that Chief Brame might do what he did the following day. However, we were concerned about Chief Brame's ability to continue to meet the considerable responsibilities and demands of his job, amid the strain and distraction of his divorce proceedings in general, and the now-public allegations of abuse. Those responsibilities include inspiring the trust and confidence of his officers and staff as well as the public.
"At the meeting on April 25th, we specifically said that, in our judgment, Chief Brame should be placed on administrative leave, which, in accordance with long-standing standard practice, would include him relinquishing his badge and service revolver, as it would for any other officer. We clearly expressed our opinion that, even based on our limited knowledge at that time, placing him on administrative leave was in the best interests of the City and TPD. We were emphatic on this point. Legal was equally emphatic, and in agreement with the City Manager, who had stated that this was a civil, not criminal, matter.
"Much to our regret now, we did not then immediately go directly to City Manager Corpuz. Would we have done so if events did not move so rapidly the next day? More than likely. But events unfolded so quickly the following day that we will never know what more we could have, or should have, done following our meeting with the City Attorney's Office. However, while we personally wrestle with our own uncertainty regarding what more we could have done, we have no uncertainty about what we did do.
"We will continue to fully cooperate with the criminal investigation and investigative audit. Once they are complete, we will focus on implementing any changes in policy and procedures that are recommended.