Untangling myths in Brame case an ongoing process

Rumors: Truth of favoritism, sex, bribery stories not simple

December 15, 2003 

State investigators spent six months separating truth from fiction in the David Brame scandal, and they still aren't done.

Rumors surrounding the Tacoma police chief grew like weeds after he shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26.

The following five examples are among the most prominent rumors surrounding the case.

Records contained in more than 6,000 pages of documents released by the Washington State Patrol reveal what investigators found. While investigators pointed to "cultural deficiencies" in the department and city government, they found no basis for criminal charges.

Sex for promotions

Allegation: Promotions in the Tacoma Police Department were based on participation in sex, or membership in a "sex club."

The details: This rumor, among the most incendiary in the Brame scandal, took many forms during the state's six-month investigation and the media's pursuit of the case.

Multiple allegations involving Brame and other police department leaders, along with sexual harassment complaints filed by female officers in years past, complicated the inquiry.

The evidence did not show a pattern of trading sex for promotions, though results of the state's investigation, combined with inquiries by The News Tribune, reveal sexual forays by department employees, including Brame.

Beginning in November 2002, Brame tried to lure a female patrol officer into a sexual threesome with his wife, Crystal.

Crystal Brame and the officer refused, but records and interviews show David Brame lied to both women, telling each that the other was willing. He also told several subordinates of his scheme.

After the shootings, a sexual harassment complaint was filed on the patrol officer's behalf. The complaint is pending.

In interviews with the Washington State Patrol, the officer described David Brame's efforts to lure her into sex. The chief suggested a possible promotion hinged on her participation.

"Now you keep that position in mind," the officer recalled him saying.

The frightened officer never accepted Brame's proposal, though he called her repeatedly in the months that followed, promoted her and continued to pressure her.

A separate area of the state's investigation revolved around the link between a high-ranking police commander and a private Lynnwood club called New Horizons, where couples can engage in consensual group sex.

State records and inquiries by The News Tribune established that the commander was a member of the club until sometime in 1999. Two club members confirmed it to investigators and the newspaper.

Where it stands: The investigation found no evidence that department promotions were linked to membership in the club, and no evidence that Brame ever belonged to it or visited it. Investigators concluded no evidence supported a criminal charge.

However, the attorney general's summary of the investigation noted that additional investigation might be necessary.

"An internal affairs proceeding should be conducted to examine whether employment-related decisions were made based on favoritism or involvement in sexual activities," the summary concluded.

Favoritism

Allegation: Police officers concealed a suspected incident of prostitution involving Wendell Brown after the former Pierce County councilman left office.

The details: On Jan. 8, 2003, two police officers spotted a man and a woman in a car in the 1200 block of Tacoma Avenue South.

Officers suspected possible prostitution; one recalled seeing the female passenger "hunched over towards the male driver, with her head located near the driver's abdominal region," records state.

After stopping the car, officers learned Brown was the driver. The woman gave the officers a false name, then another false name. Asked a third time, she provided her real name.

Police then learned the woman had an outstanding felony warrant for trespassing. She was arrested on that warrant.

The two officers released Brown. They told state investigators they did not have probable cause to arrest him.

During the stop, police Capt. William Meeks arrived. He had received an emergency page from a lieutenant, who had been told of Brown's presence by a sergeant at the scene. Meeks told state investigators he wanted to make sure the officers thoroughly documented their actions during the stop of Brown.

Meeks said his decision stemmed from his knowledge of a 1999 trial that exonerated Brown on a charge of soliciting prostitution. To avoid the problems that occurred then, Meeks said he wanted to make sure all contacts with Brown were documented.

After the incident, the two officers were ordered to turn in their arrest reports to a supervisor. Both told state investigators that was unusual: Typically, they turned reports in to the records division without additional review.

One officer was ordered to write a second report, separating information about contact with Brown from information about contact with the woman. The order came to the officers from Meeks, records state.

Information about Brown now appeared in a "supplemental report." Other records from the state's investigation suggest separating reports meant Brown would not be categorized as a "suspect" in documents of the arrest released to the media.

The officers told state investigators that writing two reports was not standard procedure.

The state's records show that a few weeks after the incident, assistant police chief Catherine Woodard called the two officers into her office and discussed the case. She told them there was nothing unusual about the way the reports were written.

The two officers disagreed, and said it was appropriate to list Brown in the original report. Woodard told them they were incorrect, and there was "no reason for the officers to feel they were being directed to do something out of the ordinary."

The woman, Tammie Lee Jensen, died of a heroin overdose shortly after the incident. A News Tribune reporter interviewed her Jan. 10.

Jensen said she knew Brown as "Chuck" and didn't know he was a politician. He gave her rides occasionally, but that was it, she said. She had known him for about five months.

Jensen denied telling police she had a romantic relationship with Brown, and denied that she had her head near in his lap. She said she was not working as a prostitute at the time, though she admitted working as a prostitute seven or eight years earlier.

Jensen said that on the day of her arrest, Brown picked her up at a bus stop at 38th Street and Pacific Avenue. He agreed to take her to the downtown library, where she said she'd left her purse in the sink.

"He's just a nice guy," she said of Brown. "He would just give me rides."

Where it stands: The state's investigation concluded that no evidence existed to support a criminal charge against Meeks in the Brown incident.

The News Tribune also investigated the incident at the time, but chose not to report on it after learning Brown had not been arrested or charged.

But the attorney general's summary of the investigation cited it as an example of a pattern "where members of the Tacoma Police department recognized possible criminal law violations, but did not treat them as such."

The prostitute rumor

Allegation: Brame picked up a prostitute in Tacoma, paid her for sex, took her to his home in Gig Harbor and raped her while a colleague watched and filmed the incident on videotape.

The details: The rumor came from Richard Schaffer, a Pierce County man arrested for drug possession in downtown Tacoma a few weeks after the April 26 shootings.

Schaffer, also known as "Big Rich," said Brame picked up Schaffer's girlfriend, a prostitute. Schaffer claimed to have a videotape of the incident, but never provided it to the State Patrol.

Where it stands: Eventually, Schaffer led investigators to his girlfriend. She denied the incident occurred, though she admitted telling the story to Schaffer. She said she made it up to arouse him.

Bribery

Allegation: Police failed to arrest a prominent citizen who allegedly offered a bribe to a sergeant to avoid arrest.

The details: The state's investigation provided little new information on this allegation, which stemmed from a July 20, 2002, incident on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma.

Patrol officer Joseph Bundy said he tried to arrest Lee Pardini, a Puyallup architect, after seeing Pardini disobey a traffic flagger.

Bundy said the arrest was nullified by Sgt. Bob Blystone, who was called to the scene and concluded that no probable cause existed for a criminal charge. Bundy added that he heard Pardini try to bribe Blystone.

Where it stands: To state investigators, and The News Tribune, Blystone has said Pardini was angry but never offered a bribe. Pardini also denies making such a statement. The News Tribune published a story on the incident July 23.

The FBI also has asked questions about the allegation. It remains unclear where its investigation stands.

Woodard and immunity

Allegation: Former assistant police chief Woodard, a key figure in the Brame scandal, avoided criminal charges by trading information for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

The details: At the request of the U.S. attorney and the state attorney general, Woodard signed a proffer agreement Aug. 13 before she spoke with investigators.

Where it stands: Though the agreement did not provide Woodard with immunity, it stated that the information she provided would not be used against her in a trial if she faced criminal charges. It required her to tell the truth, and noted that if she did not, she could be subject to criminal prosecution.

Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

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