Lawyer's push gave advocates more pull

April 27, 2004 

A year ago, Debra Hannula was a little-known Tacoma lawyer who worked part time as a judge because she liked it and hardly took any cases of her own.

Now she's acknowledged throughout the community as the woman who brought together Tacoma's leaders after the Brame tragedy.

Without her, many believe, there would be no new state law mandating that all law enforcement agencies have a policy regarding officer-involved domestic violence.

Gov. Gary Locke came to Tacoma to sign that bill into law March 15.

"I love her," Ann Eft, director of the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence, said of Hannula, 46. Before the Brame shootings, Eft said, "I'd never heard her name."

Soon after the shootings, Hannula started to write a list of who should be involved in a committee that would investigate ways to avert such a tragedy from happening again. She chatted with a few acquaintances about it, and suddenly she was in charge of a new community group.

Everyone joined. Interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell showed up for meetings. So did City Manager Jim Walton and City Council members Rick Talbert and Connie Ladenburg. County officials came, as did law enforcement representatives and politicians from smaller nearby cities and from King County.

A state Supreme Court justice joined. So did domestic violence experts, and women who had once been abused by police officers.

"It has changed my life in many ways," Hannula said recently. "These connections with these very competent people have reaffirmed my belief that most people are good and do want to see the right thing happen.

"The heightened awareness surrounding domestic violence, and in particular, officer-involved domestic violence, has been a positive outcome from a terrible, shattering crime."

Glitches did occur along the way, however. Most notably, Crystal Brame's father, Lane Judson, asked the group not to call themselves the Crystal Clear committee, because he hopes for a federal law by that name. The group is now called the Task Force on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence.

But the group's accomplishments are undeniable, and members attribute their success to Hannula.

"She really kept on us, kept us focused, kept us meeting, kept us on task," said April Gerlock, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with the Veterans Administration and a member of the group. "She never pointed a finger. She was looking for a collective response. She got people who were really dedicated and involved in the issue."

Gerlock said she's been a member of groups that were less effective because leaders didn't know what Hannula did: "You've got to have a goal, and know how are we going to get there, and what's the time frame, and who's responsible for what," Gerlock said.

Last fall, Hannula took a job as director of legal services for the YWCA of Pierce County.

"We're so grateful, and really blessed to have her on staff," said YWCA executive director Connie Brown. "She's so capable and smart and committed to women's issues."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658

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