Inside David Brame's police department

Favoritism, cruelty, intrigue tarnish 15-month reign

September 14, 2003 

In the hour of his greatest triumph, David Brame turned to his wife and children.

"They're my bookends," Brame said. "They keep me up."

His wife, Crystal, sat dutifully behind him that afternoon, along with his daughter, Haley, and son, David Jr., on a stage at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall, framed in flowers and curtains of plush blue.

On that day - Jan. 17, 2002 - Tacoma's new police chief owned the world. More than 300 spectators, including a roster of retired Tacoma chiefs, watched his swearing-in - a ceremony more elaborate than any accorded his predecessors, an anointing of the hometown boy and second-generation police officer who carried a proud family banner.

City leaders and dignitaries, including City Manager Ray Corpuz and Mayor Bill Baarsma, praised Brame's abilities. A police officer with a country baritone sang "God Bless America." Department chaplain Bill Bowlby gave a blessing, and a color guard gilded the moment with a solemn display of flags.

Finally, Crystal Brame pinned the chief's badge on her husband's uniform, after fumbling for what seemed like an eternity, and kissed him.

The chief had been crowned. Later, Brame's detractors would call the ceremony "the coronation."

The public show masked private rot - a failing marriage, already tainted by domestic violence, and a police department corroded by internal strife.

Since April 26, when Brame fatally shot his wife and then himself, questions have risen about his hiring and promotion, as well as his actions during his tenure and how much those who worked with him knew about the swirling tensions surrounding his life. In a damage claim and threatened lawsuit against the city, Crystal Brame's family members have repeatedly demanded the truth - who knew what? And when?

A four-month investigation by The News Tribune reveals many of those answers, including an inside view of Brame's 15 months in office.

During his reign, Brame often promoted supporters and friends. One rose to assistant chief despite unpopularity in the department, opposition from the police union and a 2002 reprimand for mishandling evidence.

Brame transformed the department's command staff, shifting responsibility and power from potential foes to loyal supporters. When he was finished, no one who predated his appointment remained in his inner circle.

He crushed enemies and forced one old rival to retire by threatening to slash his pension so deeply that no choice remained but swift departure.

No evidence indicates City Manager Corpuz oversaw Brame's personnel decisions or that City Council members raised questions about them. Their laissez faire management allowed Brame to exploit a system of promotions and shift assignments designed to turn almost entirely on his word.

Inside the department, Brame enjoyed similar freedom from scrutiny or complaint. His supporters were many, and he played a smooth media game, enjoying favorable coverage as a result. He took advantage of his favored status, getting money from the City Council to improve the quality of law enforcement in his city.

But as he reshaped the department in his image, his 11-year marriage, already decaying, began to fester.

His private obsessions, including pursuit of an extramarital affair and group sex, swamped his professional life. Little more than a year after his appointment, city leaders who supported him began to notice his erratic behavior.

Police department colleagues heard Brame reveal the secrets behind his divorce, including his pursuit of a female subordinate. Weeks before the shootings, at least one member of Brame's command staff knew the chief had threatened his wife's life.

By mid-April 2003, one week before he killed his wife and himself, Brame's icy mask of self-control was thinner than morning frost.

JANUARY 2002

'My team'

An interim chief now leads the Tacoma Police Department, and the slow process of recovery from the wounds inflicted by Brame has begun.

But the remnants of his empire remain, leaving indelible marks on the department. His maneuvers amounted to a "virtual corruption" of the promotion process, says retired Lt. Darrell Hughes, who left the department in March after 29 years of service.

"Look who is in the positions of power now," he says. "They were all Dave's little buddy pals. You leave legacies that go for years, not just minutes."

When Brame took office, some in the rank and file saw cause for hope - a young chief, brimming with ideas to improve the image of local police, add officers and pry more funding from city leaders. Brame was going to professionalize the department, they thought.

When it suited him, he traded his cool demeanor for a warm image, coupled with jokes and easy informality. Subordinates called him Chief Dave, Dave or D.A. (his initials). They recall an oft-repeated line: "I'm always looking for someone to join my team."

The words stirred hope in the ranks.

"We all wanted to become part of that Dave Brame team," says detective Becky Graef, who knew nothing of Brame's troubled marriage before the shootings. "It's one of the reasons why I wanted to be promoted to sergeant, to work under him. I thought he was squeaky clean."

In retrospect, detective Brad Graham thinks Brame kicked the department in the gut with the shootings. At the time, he saw a halo around the chief. Now he questions his own judgment.

"I would have followed him anywhere," Graham says. "I believed everything he told me. I was willing to follow him."

Others in the bitterly divided command staff fretted over Brame's ascent. Years of close association had taught them his daily rhythms, his moves, his chilly style. Brame loved the "Godfather" films and kept a photo of star Al Pacino on his office wall. Veterans knew he could be ruthless when crossed.

They had heard the rumors of trouble in Brame's marriage. Many knew the stories of a 1988 rape allegation against him, unproven but believed by investigators Dave Olsen and Ron Hill, purged from the department's disciplinary files, never entirely forgotten. Two veteran commanders had warned city leaders against the young chief's selection.

For almost a year, assistant city attorneys Shelley Kerslake and Heidi Wachter had known of the old rape case, as had Corpuz. It had resurfaced in a 1999 lawsuit against the department filed by Joe Kirby, a lieutenant unhappy with his treatment by superior officers.

Under pressure, Brame acknowledged the old allegation to the attorneys and Corpuz, saying the claim was false and that he had been cleared after an investigation.

Nevertheless, he feared it could derail his ambition to become chief. His enemies were trying to throw dirt on him, he said.

The attorneys believed him. Before the chief's appointment, Kerslake had gotten the court file sealed, exempting it from public disclosure.

The clouds looming on Brame's horizon were also invisible to his parents. Eugene Brame Sr., David's father, and a retired veteran of the department, swelled with pride for his son.

"He was the best-liked and loved police chief that Tacoma has had for a number of years," he said in a previous interview. "David's overall plan was to have the most wonderful police department in this nation, and he was well on his way to doing that."

Even at home, the future looked a little brighter. For Crystal Brame and her family, the swearing-in offered a chance for guarded hope. David had what he wanted. Perhaps the new job would satisfy him and the years of cold, controlling behavior would subside.

"That was our impression," says David Ahrens, brother-in-law of Crystal Brame. "Once he reached his career goal, he'd become a better human being."

Factions and feuds

The public knew little of the obstacles Brame faced as he took office. He seized the helm of a police department racked with tension, much of it created during the stormy tenure of former chief Philip Arreola and unresolved by his successor, James Hairston.

As Brame's tenure began, his inner circle of assistant chiefs included a pair of ex-rivals: deputy chief Mike Darland, a 30-year veteran, mustachioed, gruff and tough as leather; and assistant chief Ray Roberts, a proud, silver-haired commander with 29 years on the force.

Both men were older than Brame and had more years of service in the department. Both had been interested in the chief's position the previous fall, losing out to Brame, who had another pet phrase that conveyed his personal notion of loyalty:

"If you're not on my side, you're the enemy."

His command staff included one hand-picked ally: assistant chief Catherine Woodard, a 24-year veteran and his first appointee. Woodard told friends she set aside her own ambitions to become chief in exchange for Brame's promise of a promotion - and to avoid possible retribution for challenging him.

Rank-and-file officers knew little of the fractures and factions in the command staff, but the divisions were wide and deep, built on years of long-nursed grudges and rivalries.

"Unbelievable," was the word one former assistant chief uses to describe the atmosphere. "There were people that seemed to have issues with each other that went back years."

A few veterans in the lower ranks noticed it as well.

"Even down at the patrol officer level, we knew about the animosity, we knew about the infighting, we knew about the rancor," one former officer says. "We were just wondering when it was going to come out."

The feuding involved two warring clans. On one side stood Brame and a handful of close associates. Woodard - tall, lanky and well-connected at City Hall - was a key member. Another ally was Capt. William Meeks, a heavyset ex-lineman, an expert in use-of-force issues and one of Brame's oldest friends in the department.

The group included a few other lower-level commanders. Lt. Bob Ruiz, whose Gig Harbor home Brame bought, was one. So were Sgts. Bob Sheehan and Bob Blystone, friends and partners from Brame's days as vice president of Local 6, the 300-member police union.

They saw themselves as progressive, eager to implement new ideas and move the department forward.

Their detractors saw something else - a closed circle of Brame and his friends that sometimes resembled a cult. The chief's team soon acquired a nickname - the Davidians.

On the other side was a loosely knit group led by "Iron Mike" Darland. Its members included veterans Capt. Charles Meinema, Hughes and Lt. Joe Kirby, as well as a number of retired officers and commanders. The Darland group had flourished under Ray Fjetland, who served as chief from 1988 to 1996.

They were independent, suspicious of city government meddling, fiercely loyal to one another and united in their distrust of Brame. For them, he was the antithesis of Fjetland, who delegated authority and allowed commanders to make many of their own decisions.

In Brame, the veterans saw a control-obsessed manipulator who talked the downtown lingo, curried favor at City Hall, punished dissent and demanded blind obedience.

"Domineering, tyrannical, bullying," Meinema said when asked to describe Brame's management style. The remark emerged from court testimony in Kirby's lawsuit.

To the Brame group, Darland and his supporters were arrogant, stick-in-the-mud cops from the old school, embittered by their loss of influence, too set in their ways to accept inevitable changes, determined to undercut the new chief. They were saddled with derisive nicknames - knotheads, Meinemites or "the Mount Tahoma Mafia," a label Brame himself once used in conversation with his brother-in-law, Ahrens.

One veteran officer who avoided alliance with either group said the anti-Brame crowd was too consumed by dislike to see any virtue in the chief.

"According to the Darland camp, Brame was the second gunman on the grassy knoll," the officer said. "A lot of these guys in that camp - they have an agenda, and their agenda is pretty self-centered."

'The Dave Show'

Brame's controlling nature only fueled the ire of his critics. During his 15-month tenure, he ran all weekly command staff meetings. If he had another obligation, no one else - not Darland, not the other assistant chiefs - could run them. No Brame, no meeting.

His critics called it "The Dave Show."

Brame would enter the conference room, usually a few minutes late, and hold court before a captive audience.

A common topic was his vision for the future. He would talk about what he'd done for the department, what he was going to do for it.

Despite low-level grousing, Brame cruised through his opening weeks in office, still basking in the afterglow of the coronation. He settled into a pleasant routine, meeting regularly with Corpuz, city department heads and neighborhood leaders such as Priscilla Lisicich, executive director of the crime prevention program Safe Streets.

In one of his first promotions, Brame elevated Lt. Don Ramsdell, currently the department's interim chief, to captain.

No one questioned the decision. "Rammer" (Ramsdell's nickname in the department) had the highest test scores among candidates for the captain's rank. He was a high-octane commander, respected by Brame's foes and friends.

But another promotion, announced the same day, raised eyebrows: Brame elevated an old union colleague, Bob Sheehan, from sergeant to lieutenant in the department's Internal Affairs division.

Sheehan ranked lowest among five promotional candidates at the time, a fact not lost on Brame's critics. The pattern of passing over top-ranking candidates would continue throughout his tenure.

FEBRUARY 2002

Public triumph, private tension

In a memo Brame sent to department personnel Feb. 4, he repeated a slogan he'd uttered during his campaign for chief: "There is nothing wrong with this department that cannot be fixed by what is right with this department."

Events seemed to support that view when the next day voters passed a $34.3 million bond measure to build four police substations and a new headquarters.

The margin of approval was overwhelming - more than 67 percent. It also represented a personal triumph for Sheehan and Lt. Jim Howatson, a pair of the chief's supporters who campaigned for months leading up to the election.

Brame was elated.

"Thank you, citizens of Tacoma," he said in a public statement. "It's beyond our wildest dreams."

While his public spirits soared, his private life foundered.

Less than a week after the election, in their house on Eagle Creek Lane in Gig Harbor, Brame and Crystal fought. He wrapped his hands around his wife's neck and choked her, she said in court documents.

Flowers arrived for Crystal the next day - Valentine's Day - along with a card signed by "Your Secret Admirer."

The bouquet provoked a new fight when Brame came home. He demanded to know who'd sent the flowers and accused Crystal of having an affair. She insisted he'd sent them. He denied it.

The toxic pattern repeated itself in the months that followed - choking, flowers the next day, an anonymous card and accusations of infidelity, her court filing says.

A year later, after she filed for divorce, Crystal would visit the Gig Harbor flower shop that sent the bouquets and obtain records of the purchases. Her husband's credit card had paid for every one of them.

Family tensions intruded again in March, when a squabble erupted between Crystal and David's mother, Beverly Brame.

The children had been staying with their grandparents, and when Crystal and David returned from a basketball game, they complained that Grandma had hit David Jr. several times. Such incidents had occurred before, according to Crystal's sworn statements in court documents.

Parents and grandparents confronted each other. Crystal and David told Beverly Brame she would not baby-sit the children again. In later statements, David Brame and his family said Crystal overstated the allegations.

At the office, police spokesman Jim Mattheis, mindful of the importance of public image, noticed that Crystal rarely attended department functions with her husband.

"You could never get the two of them together," he says.

APRIL 2002

Promising initiatives

Turbulence at home did not deter Brame from his public goals. As his fourth month in office began, he promoted new organizational ideas designed to improve the department.

First, he announced creation of a Professional Responsibility Bureau to oversee Internal Affairs investigations. Brame was quoted in a news story, calling it "a catalyst for change in the department."

To head the bureau, Brame named a newcomer as his next assistant chief - John Batiste. A 26-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol, Batiste had served on one of the panels that vetted eight candidates for Tacoma police chief in 2001. At that time, he endorsed the idea of an internal candidate for chief.

Batiste, who lived in Fircrest, saw heading the bureau as an opportunity to work closer to home.

"I didn't know him very well," Batiste, now deputy chief of the Port of Seattle Police, says of Brame. "He didn't know me from a hole in the wall. I was an outsider. He simply asked me if I would come in and help him deal with community issues. It was an opportunity to work out of my own back yard."

The addition of Batiste to the five-member inner circle of command gave Brame a pair of hand-picked associates. Department observers saw it as a political move: Now Darland and Roberts were in the minority.

A week later, Brame announced another initiative - creation of an auto theft task force to combat one of Tacoma's perennial problems.

"We've got to get on it," Brame said in a news story.

His efforts garnered a positive editorial a day later in The News Tribune. Brame's initiatives "show imagination and a refreshing willingness by the new chief to do what it takes to improve the department's performance," it said.

A month later, the task force busted two groups of car thieves linked to hundreds of thefts. Another positive editorial followed. To one confidante, Brame boasted he had the newspaper's editorial board in his back pocket.

Graveyard

While Brame rode the acclaim, Lt. Darrell Hughes, a 28-year veteran of the department, worked the graveyard shift. He owed the dreary duty to the chief.

Hughes, burly and thick-armed, had covered nights for two years, ever since the "Spat in the Flat" - a 2000 labor demonstration at the Kaiser Aluminum plant on the Tacoma Tideflats.

Along with other commanders, Hughes, a military veteran with a college degree, handled operational planning during the event and earned praise from his superiors. In an award nomination, Meinema called Hughes "a creative force" in the department.

His achievements included creation of the Habitual Crimes/Intelligence unit and development of the department's computer forensics lab. In 2000, then-chief Hairston awarded Hughes the department's Distinguished Service Medal for his history of achievement.

During preparations for the Spat in the Flat, Brame, then an assistant chief, oversaw planning for the demonstration.

He told other commanders to strictly adhere to the chain of command.

Hughes couldn't let the remark pass. He had seen sergeants and lieutenants issue orders only to have Brame secretly change them. Then Brame would criticize midlevel commanders when plans went awry.

"The biggest violator," Hughes told Brame, "is you."

Brame threw the graveyard assignment at Hughes the day after the Kaiser demonstration.

After Brame became chief, Hughes got a visit from assistant chief Woodard. She told him she had tried to persuade Brame to move Hughes off nights. Brame's reply: Not yet.

To Hughes, the punishment hardly fit the crime.

"You don't get two years for burglary," he says.

Way back

With a pal, Brame was more charitable. On April 12, he meted out discipline to Bill Meeks, who had been accused of mishandling evidence in a 2001 drug raid in Enumclaw.

Meeks and Brame went way back. They were patrolmen and partners for three summers in the 1980s, and rose through the ranks together.

"I carried him for two months after his first divorce (in 1987)," Meeks says. "I wrote the reports. I drove the car."

Their friendship ran deeper than professional association. Meeks knew Brame's family and came to Tacoma General Hospital when Haley, the Brames' first child, was born in 1994.

"They were very close friends, and Meeks was always helping David go through these tests - the tests for sergeant, captain," said Lane Judson, Crystal Brame's father.

During Brame's campaign for chief in 2001, Meeks, along with Woodard and other supporters, prepped Brame with data and talking points.

Meeks also got a glimpse of the darker side of Brame's marriage. In September 1996, after a fight with Crystal, Brame had Meeks videotape scratches on his arm and shoulder - wounds Brame said Crystal inflicted.

Remembering the incident, Meeks says he insisted Brame report the incident to Gig Harbor police, and that he should push to have Crystal arrested. Brame refused, though he did file a police report.

She later told her family Brame deliberately scratched himself that night, gouging his nails into his neck as she watched.

"She saw him draw blood," says Ahrens, Crystal's brother-in-law. "He said, 'Look what you did to me. Look what you did to me.'"

Brame told her he would keep a record of the scratches and use it to blame Crystal if she ever accused him of abusing her.

The bond between the two men became clear to subordinates when Meeks faced discipline for his actions during the Enumclaw drug raid. Investigators had recovered some baseball caps from the scene. Meeks wore one, labeled "Yes Greenhouse," for a while, and didn't enter the caps into evidence for three weeks.

A "real stupid thing," recalls Heidi Wachter, a former assistant city attorney who was the police department's legal adviser from 1999 to 2002. She described her reaction during an interview with investigators from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), conducted a few weeks after the shootings.

At the time of the caps incident, in October 2001, Brame was still an assistant chief. Barry McColeman, a detective, had called Brame to complain about Meeks' behavior.

Meeks had been wearing the baseball cap for two weeks, McColeman told Brame (Meeks denies it), and wore it while he spoke to officers about discipline.

"Your boy is walking around wearing evidence from a criminal investigation, and it's pissing people off," McColeman said.

Brame said he would take care of it. A day or so later, he called McColeman back.

"He's not wearing it now, is he?" Brame asked. He ordered McColeman not to pursue the matter any further and ordered him not to tell anyone about their conversation. Looking back, McColeman thought Brame was tipping off Meeks to keep him out of trouble.

Now it was April 2002, and Brame was the chief - final arbiter of discipline.

Along with two other lower-ranking officers, Meeks received a verbal reprimand for his role in the caps fiasco and an order to attend retraining. The recommended punishment, the lowest available, came from assistant chief Roberts, who forwarded it to Brame.

Roberts stands by his decision to this day. He saw no reason for more stringent measures against Meeks.

"That was sufficient," he said. "It showed some sloppiness."

Some department insiders, including leaders of Local 6, felt Meeks got off lightly. Others more sympathetic to Meeks felt the discipline might have delayed his promotion to assistant chief - a promotion they saw as inevitable.

Meeks was known for his technical expertise in issues such as use of force. Brame relied on his old friend for ideas, despite the doubts others expressed.

"There were people who said that Meeks would be the real downfall for Brame," Wachter said, "that Brame and he had some kind of relationship, and for that reason Brame would try to put Meeks in a higher position and that would never work."

Life's little instructions

In mid-April, Brame sent a memo to all personnel in the department. It discussed community-oriented policing, a Brame priority. He urged officers to give weight to "each and every citizen contact in your daily duties."

The memo closed with a platitude: "Understand that happiness is not based on possessions, power or prestige, but on relationships with people you love and respect."

Brame borrowed the sentence from a popular self-help tome, "Life's Little Instruction Book." Other quotes from the volume appeared on a poster in Brame's office, which closed with a warning: "Don't do anything that wouldn't make your mother proud."

Three days after sending that memo, Brame served as honorary grand marshal of the 2002 Daffodil Parade, smiling and waving at residents along with Tacoma deputy fire chief Gary Steinhoff.

Beneath the public harmony, private discord bubbled on Eagle Creek Lane. Three days after the parade, on April 23, Brame choked Crystal during an argument, she would later say in court documents.

Again, flowers arrived from Crystal's "secret admirer" the next morning, and a fight followed that night. It was Crystal's 34th birthday - the last the couple would spend together.

Back in the office, May brought another moral victory - passage of a partial police union contract that provided a retroactive pay increase for police officers and detectives in Local 6. It didn't resolve all the lingering issues between the union and the city, and it was only a one-year deal, but it still counted as progress.

At Eagle Creek Lane, there was no progress - only escalating violence. On June 9, Brame choked Crystal again, sent anonymous flowers again the next day, fought with her again the next night and repeated his accusation that she was having an affair, according to the court documents.

Two weeks later, he sent a memo to police department employees regarding professional performance and conduct.

"Those who are sworn to uphold the law should not break the law," he said.

JUNE 2002

Top of the list

Though department observers knew little of the chief's private conduct, they were beginning to chafe at his personnel decisions. On June 27, Brame promoted Lt. Richard McCrea to captain and Sgt. Michael Taylor to lieutenant.

In Tacoma, the chief controls promotions, selecting candidates who are ranked on the basis of their performance on written and oral tests, administered and scored by the city's Human Resources Department.

To be ranked first means the candidate scored highest on those tests. Eligible candidates then appear on a list of five or three individuals, depending on the position sought. An interview follows with the chief and assistant chiefs.

In police department jargon, the process is known as the "Rule of Five" or "Rule of Three." First-ranking candidates expect a promotion.

They don't always get one - promotions also reflect the chief's discretion. The standard was established before Brame took office and continues today.

But half a dozen veteran ranking officers, detectives and commanders, including Hughes and others who decline to speak for the record, say Brame showed favoritism in his use of promotions. Awareness of his reputed methods drifted beyond the department to City Hall.

"(There was) a sense that Brame ... was always a deal-maker: 'You do this for me; I'll do this for you,'" says assistant city attorney Cathy Parker, who shared her impressions with WASPC investigators.

During his brief tenure, Brame consistently promoted candidates who ranked below the top of the list. He promoted 15 officers, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants and captains. Of those 15, five candidates ranked first for their respective positions.

By contrast, former Chief Ray Fjetland passed over first-ranking candidates only three times in eight years.

"Brame used that Rule of Five more than anyone I know," Meeks says.

The practice frayed morale and fed the perception of his critics that he used the process to send a message to those who hadn't joined his team.

"Dave Brame used that Rule of Five, and he would grab friends and skip enemies," says Dave Olsen, the retired captain who investigated the rape allegation against Brame in 1988.

One highly regarded officer, weary of the humiliation, simply stopped taking promotion tests. Many of those who remain on the force will not comment on Brame's treatment of them, citing fear for their jobs.

A few commanders climbed the ladder in traditional fashion. Ramsdell was one candidate who ranked first in test scores and moved up accordingly, eventually rising to assistant chief.

Even Brame's detractors speak highly of Ramsdell and do not question his promotion.

"Rammer got scooped up because Dave Brame needed a respectable person," Hughes says.

McCrea, another high-scoring candidate, also rose without creating a stir along the department grapevine. So did Howatson, a popular commander who became a captain a month before McCrea. Brame's critics and supporters agree that Ramsdell, McCrea and Howatson rank among the department's best and brightest.

But the announcement of Michael Taylor's promotion to lieutenant left a disappointed competitor - one of many who felt the sting of Brame's caprice.

Sgt. Leroy Standifer had ranked first among the candidates at the time of Taylor's promotion. For the fourth time in the first six months of Brame's tenure, Standifer had been passed over in favor of a candidate who ranked below him.

He had interviewed with Brame four times in the preceding months. The chief would pass over him a fifth time later in 2002, again in favor of a candidate with a lower ranking.

Current and former veteran commanders and officers call Standifer capable and qualified. They say his difficulties stemmed from the chief's animosity: Brame saw Standifer as an ally of the Darland group.

Standifer would not comment for this story. Three weeks ago, Ramsdell promoted him to lieutenant.

JULY 2002

'Paranoid as hell'

In midsummer 2002, Brame met with assistant chief Roberts and struck up a casual conversation about the future.

"What are your career goals, Ray?" Brame wondered.

The two men weren't friends. In Roberts' mind, the polite approach masked the real question: When will you leave, Ray?

Since the coronation, Roberts had known there would be no place for him in Brame's kingdom. But this was just chit-chat. He saw no deeper meaning in it or any harm in sharing his plans with the young chief.

"Put in 30 years and leave with my head up," he replied.

Roberts planned to stick around, but only a little longer, he explained. Soon he would reach 30 years of service. The milestone was a point of personal pride for veterans, as Brame knew. Moreover, it guaranteed the highest pension Roberts could earn.

He would stay a few months longer, he told Brame - enough to carry him to January, when commanders would receive their scheduled 8 percent raise.

After that, Roberts and his wife were bound for Idaho, to build a house on the acreage where they meant to retire.

The conversation ended, and Roberts thought no more of it. A few weeks later, at the end of July, Brame called him into the chief's office.

"I'm demoting you to captain," Brame said.

The effective date, he added, was Aug. 5 - exactly 30 days before Roberts would reach 30 years.

Roberts' mind whirled.

Three decades given to this department - his strength, vigor and youth. Commendations. Two life-saving medals.

What had he done wrong? Demotion would be humiliating, but the money situation was just as bad - a captain's salary would cut his paycheck by a fifth.

And the pension - what was Brame doing to his pension? The hit was huge - more than $200,000 in his first 10 years of retirement.

One more month was all Roberts needed. The chief wouldn't give it.

Now it was more expensive to reach 30 years than to bow out at 29.

Roberts was sure Brame knew it. The chief crunched budget numbers in his head faster than most people could think.

Roberts could leave now and retire as an assistant chief. The financial loss wouldn't sting as much. But he wouldn't get the bump for the 30 years, and he wouldn't get the January raise.

He had a paraplegic son in college. He hadn't started building his place in Idaho. He wasn't ready. He had to know Brame's reason.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I can."

Brame left for a vacation in Las Vegas a few days later. On July 29, a departmental memo announced the retirement of assistant chief Ray Roberts and the promotion of Ramsdell to assistant chief. "Rammer" had vaulted from captain to assistant chief in less than seven months.

The old guard was nearly gone. Darland became a minority of one in the inner circle.

The abrupt departure of Roberts shocked the department. Even Brame's supporters saw cruelty in it.

"It was a malicious thing to do," said one veteran who did not want to be named. "Everyone knew that Ray had a sick child. Everyone knew that he was almost to the 30-year magic mark."

Brame's actions still puzzle Roberts. He points to one possible motive: a departmental award Brame had coveted for his work on planning for the Kaiser protest - the Spat in the Flat.

Using intermediaries such as Catherine Woodard, Brame sought the award repeatedly, submitting three separate nominations. He never received it.

Roberts was a member of the department's awards committee at the time. He figures Brame blamed him for the slight.

"David Brame was a very intelligent guy, a very articulate guy," Roberts says. "But he was paranoid as hell."

AUGUST 2002

'It was not going to work'

In August, a personal matter involving another commander ruptured Brame's inner circle.

John Batiste, assistant chief and head of the newly created Professional Responsibility Bureau, stopped by the Fircrest Police Department in uniform.

He carried a spare uniform that needed dry-cleaning and dropped it off with his wife, who worked at the station. As Batiste left, he noticed a car that belonged to an off-duty Fircrest officer and went back inside.

The other man had tried to befriend Batiste's wife and draw her into a personal matter involving another staffer at the station.

Batiste spoke to the officer, and told him he wanted the behavior to stop. The pair argued briefly. Batiste put his hand on the officer's shoulder; both men went outside.

Batiste later described the situation as "an incident between me and an officer - a verbal confrontation."

The disagreement ended with mutual apologies and a handshake, according to Batiste and Fircrest Police Chief John Cheesman, who was in the station at the time and saw the incident. Batiste left a short time later.

"It wasn't that big of a deal," Cheesman says.

A day or two later, Cheesman mentioned the matter to Brame and suggested Brame talk to Batiste about it.

Brame, never happy when others knew more about his staff than he, confronted Batiste and demanded to know what happened.

"There was a conversation between the two of us," Batiste says now. "He was informed as to what occurred. It was nothing that rose to a level that he should have been involved in or needed to know."

But without Batiste's knowledge, Brame began to undermine his assistant chief. He spoke to City Attorney Robin Jenkinson about the Fircrest incident and told another high-ranking city official that Batiste's career might be over.

He spoke of reporting Batiste to the state's training bureau and possibly revoking his officer certification - a move that could forever prevent Batiste from working in law enforcement. Records show Brame never carried out the threat.

Cheesman, who did not know of Brame's actions at the time, calls them surprising and adds that Batiste's behavior did not warrant such treatment.

"It certainly wasn't a career-ender," Cheesman says.

Late in the year, Batiste and Brame spoke about the Fircrest incident again. The conversation led to an announcement that Batiste would resign from the department at the end of the year.

"It was not going to work between the two of us," Batiste says. "That was obvious. The best thing to do was for he and I to part company."

Brame's critics see something more. Batiste was becoming too strong, they say. Officers with problems and concerns were beginning to consult him instead of Brame.

Batiste refuses to feed those rumors.

"I know they're trying to say I was wronged and so on and so forth. I'm not hung up on any of that," he says.

SEPTEMBER 2002

'Like a sculptor'

On Sept. 11, 2002 - the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks - Brame gave a speech at the dedication of the harbor flag on Thea Foss Waterway.

He spoke of sacrifice, of firefighters who rushed to save victims in the collapsing World Trade Center. He quoted the Bible and Charles Dickens, saying, "Mankind is our business."

He had spent the summer beefing up traffic enforcement in school zones, adding community liaison officers and meeting with neighborhood leaders, including Nancy Davis, a member of the East Side Neighborhood Council, and Priscilla Lisicich, executive director of Safe Streets. His efforts were winning praise.

"This visibility is extremely important," Davis said at the time.

Brame's reputation had never been higher. On Sept. 18, an editorial appeared in The News Tribune, praising Brame for molding the department "like a sculptor."

While her husband drank public adulation, Crystal Brame saved nickels, dimes and quarters. She kept the change in a small wallet. It was her budget for Christmas presents. She had shown the change to her mother, like a child with a secret.

She had an idea to raise a little more: She would sell some of the children's old clothes at a consignment store and add the proceeds to the kitty.

Her plan netted $20. She told her husband about the small windfall.

"Give me half," Brame said.

Crystal asked why. Brame said she had used his money to buy the clothes in the first place. Half the money was his. She could keep the rest.

It was typical of the controlling behavior that strained their marriage, her family said. Friends and family members who spoke with her noticed her hollow eyes and her downcast manner.

In her younger days, before marrying David in 1991, she had talked of becoming a police officer and studied criminal justice in college. Brame had vetoed the idea, telling her she could work only in an office with other women.

Now she kept a spotless house for a man who clocked the mileage on her car, measured her weight on a scale every morning and refused to let her have a checking account.

More than once, she had walked in on Brame staring at himself in the mirror. He would kiss his arms and say, "I love me."

OCTOBER 2002

'Do what's right'

A key promotional decision awaited Brame in October. A captain's position was open, and he needed someone to fill it.

Ramsdell, Howatson and McCrea had already risen. Standing next in line and test scores was Lt. Tom Strickland, a respected veteran.

"Having observed him in a variety of assignments, I consider him one of the most talented individuals we have," Meinema says.

Strickland did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Others familiar with his career described his history in the department.

Strickland had worked under Darland and earned the tough commander's respect. "Iron Mike" and other veteran commanders saw Strickland as a lock for promotion, if the decision were based on merit. But they weren't sure it would be.

The chief had a long memory. Before the appointment, Strickland had told Brame he didn't think Dave was ready to become chief.

"That put him on the permanent shit list," says Dave Olsen, who before retiring in 2000 worked with Strickland.

Knowing that history, Darland spoke to Brame about the appointment.

"I hope you can overcome your personal feelings and do what's right for the department," Darland said.

On Oct. 4, Brame announced his decision. Strickland was passed over. Instead, the chief reached below him and promoted Stan Fisk.

At the time, Darland criticized the move in conversations with colleagues. Other veteran commanders echoed the sentiment. Fisk was affable and decent, they say - but no match for Strickland.

Darland wondered how much longer he could stay.

Since taking office, Brame had gradually reduced the deputy chief's commitments, consulting him less and less, discouraging Darland from attending key meetings on department policy, closing his door.

Often now, Darland ate lunch alone, wolfing down fast-food burgers in his office. His beloved Harley-Davidson DynaGlide sat at home in his garage, waiting for its rider. He began to think of retirement.

NOVEMBER 2002

The sniper

In late October, the biggest crime story in decades broke in a Tacoma back yard.

Federal agents swarmed over a home in the Oakland Madrona neighborhood, seeking evidence related to the rampaging Beltway sniper. Soon, the search was on for John Allen Muhammad, an ex-soldier from Tacoma.

Within hours, the sniper story was leading news broadcasts from coast to coast. Reporters from national and local media outlets poured into the city.

It was time for a public statement. Brame hurriedly met with his command staff, even those he normally didn't consult. What should he say?

Tell people there's no danger in Tacoma, one commander said. Say we're working with federal investigators, and we have no further information.

Brame scribbled some notes. This would work, he said. He could have the public information officer write something up. What else?

Check to see whether neighbors ever reported shots fired in the area of the home being searched.

Brame decided he could check the next day.

One commander gently suggested he call now. Reporters were likely to ask the question tonight. Brame declined.

The news conference was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. - more than two hours away. Brame wanted the commanders to stay, to stand behind him in a show of solidarity.

All of them did, except Darland, who went home. Hanging around was pointless, he told his wife, Cindy, later that night. Brame didn't want anyone to say anything. He just wanted them to stand there while he made a speech.

When Brame finally addressed the press horde, he spoke for a few minutes, jaw tightened, commanders standing silently behind him.

As predicted, reporters asked about rumors of shots fired. Brame said he wasn't aware of any, though neighbors were appearing on television saying they had heard shots several times. The news conference ended swiftly.

A few days later, Brame and Crystal fought again, her court filing says.

Once more he choked her and added a warning: "I could snap your neck if I wanted to."

The inevitable flowers arrived the next day.

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2002

Visions

As the close of his first year in office approached, Brame veered down a path of self-destruction.

For some time, he had been eyeing a female patrol officer. She was attractive, and he began to pursue her. She wasn't interested, but Brame didn't notice.

Visions crept into his mind: the woman and Crystal, together, with him.

On the pretext of discussing police business, he invited her to lunch in mid-November at a nice restaurant in Tacoma. It was the officer's day off, but this was the chief asking. Her hopes for advancement in a career she loved hinged on his decisions.

She agreed. They met.

During the conversation, the chief offered an abrupt proposal: Would the officer be interested in a threesome with Brame and his wife?

Astonished, the officer did not know how to reply. She did not want the chief's attention, but she feared his reaction if she said so.

As the lunch ended, he suggested that if she refused him, professional consequences could follow.

After that, Brame called the woman more and more - on her pager, at her office, at home. She never accepted his proposal, but Brame told a different story to his wife.

In late November or early December, he mentioned the officer and the lunch to Crystal and traced the outline of his fantasy.

Crystal had rejected such arrangements before. During and after their 2001 vacation in Palm Springs, Brame tried to link them with another couple. Crystal refused and later told a friend, Debbie Phillips, how she had responded.

"Why are you doing this?" she had asked. "All I want is you."

On a November shopping trip at the Tacoma Mall, Brame and his wife saw the officer in a patrol car. Brame pointed her out and introduced his wife.

"Hi," Crystal said. The encounter was brief, and they soon moved on.

Later Brame pressed. He told Crystal he had arranged a weekend trip to Seattle the week before Christmas. The three of them would see a musical together and spend the night at a downtown hotel.

Brame didn't tell Crystal the officer never agreed to such an arrangement. Crystal wondered what excuse she could use to cancel. Then, at the last minute, Brame told her the officer had backed out. The weekend was off.

After the shootings, a sexual harassment complaint against the city was filed on the officer's behalf, charging that Brame had pressured her for sex, offering the promise of a promotion. The complaint remains unresolved.

Though his personal quest for pleasure failed, Brame found another kind of solace at the department. In an e-mail to Brame sent just before Christmas, Darland said he planned to retire.

"Iron Mike" was done. He told commanders he would stay until March 27, then hang it up after 31 years.

A few friends, including retired deputy chief James Knutsen, asked him why.

"I can't look guys in the eyes anymore," Darland told him. "I keep seeing all this going on, good police officers being screwed because they weren't blind or obedient to Dave Brame."

On Christmas Day, David and Crystal kept up appearances, arriving at the home of Crystal's parents for a holiday visit. Patty Judson thought her daughter looked tired, worn down. This was her favorite holiday, but she seemed listless.

"She just could not be herself," Patty said.

As usual, David didn't say much.

He went to another room and dozed.

Coming Monday: Sex, lies and death threats


WHO'S WHO

David Ahrens: Brother-in-law of Crystal Brame

Julie Ahrens: Sister of Crystal Brame

John Batiste: Former assistant police chief, appointed by Brame

Eugene Brame Sr.: Father of David Brame

Ray Corpuz: Tacoma city manager who appointed Brame chief

Bill Bowlby: Police chaplain and Brame confidante

Mike Darland: Deputy police chief and Brame rival

Jim Howatson: Current assistant police chief, promoted to captain by Brame

Lane Judson: Father of Crystal Brame

Patty Judson: Mother of Crystal Brame

Jim Mattheis: Tacoma police spokesman

Barry McColeman: Police detective and Brame confidante

Richard McCrea: Assistant police chief appointed by Brame

William Meeks: Assistant police chief appointed by Brame

Charles Meinema: Police captain and member of faction opposed to Brame

Don Ramsdell: Current interim police chief appointed to assistant chief by Brame

Ray Roberts: Assistant police chief demoted and forced to retire by Brame

Bob Ruiz: Police lieutenant and Brame confidante

Catherine Woodard: Assistant police chief appointed by Brame

About this series

To compile this three-part story, News Tribune reporters Sean Robinson and Martha Modeen spent four months investigating the 15-month tenure of Tacoma Police Chief David Brame and his life with Crystal Brame.

They traced the final days of the couple's lives, up to the moment when Brame fatally shot his wife and himself.

Significant reporting contributions also came from staff writers Stacey Mulick, Karen Hucks, Jason Hagey, Kris Sherman and Lisa Kremer.

Reporters interviewed more than 60 people, including 25 current and former members of the Tacoma Police Department. Information also came from public and private records, including court documents, e-mails, correspondence, telephone records, video records and appointment calendars.

Former Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz, Tacoma assistant police chief Catherine Woodard and Brame's divorce attorney, Anne Meath, declined interviews.

Comments or quotes attributed to them were gathered before the shootings or from other sources.

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