Friends remember Crystal, say they'll rise to help others

April 28, 2004 

They think of her while driving Highway 16, when they see yellow, her favorite color, or while working in the garden.

It's been a year since Tacoma Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his estranged wife, Crystal. But she's never far from her friends' thoughts.

Debbie Phillips, owner of Oasis Tanning in Gig Harbor, half expects to see Crystal stop in for a tan. Liz Zimmerman, another dear friend, mentally replays the last conversation she had with Crystal, two weeks before she was shot.

Longtime family friend Donelda Pim thinks of Crystal when she's outside among her flowers. She'll ask, "Are you resting well, dear?" and then proceed to tell her how family and friends are doing.

"I have not been to Crystal's grave," Pim said. "I don't have to go there to talk with her."

These three women were among Crystal's few close friends. They offered her a measure of sanity in a world of domestic torment. In Crystal's final weeks, they heard her accounts of domestic abuse and how she feared her husband and the police department he controlled. They urged Crystal to leave town, a suggestion she thought impractical.

A year after her death, Crystal's friends are frustrated that no one has been disciplined, apart from former City Manager Ray Corpuz, who was fired by the City Council in the aftermath of the scandal. To them, the lack of punishment confirms Crystal's fear that her husband could kill her and get away with it.

"I'm very angry," Zimmerman said. "There are people in the police department who knew what went on, and they're going to keep quiet. I think about it every single day. ... There wasn't anyone to protect Crystal."

Crystal's friends remember her telling them that she was followed by members of the police department and that she searched her house for electronic eavesdropping devices. (Investigators found no evidence of wiretaps or surveillance.) Crystal's friends remember her telling them she was being pushed by her husband to participate in group sex. (At least one Tacoma police official was aware of Brame's efforts, but thought his attempts to arrange group sex were consensual.)

Considering everything she told them, Crystal's friends see a police department intent on protecting itself instead of protecting a victim.

State investigators, however, found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by city or police employees, except by David Brame himself.

"Everybody's got an excuse," Phillips said. "If you did something wrong, stand up. You know what you did."

Crystal's friends think former assistant chief Catherine Woodard got off easy, retiring with a full pension. Crystal told Woodard of Brame's death threats during the divorce. Woodard assured Crystal that her husband wouldn't hurt her and urged her to consider reconciling. The Washington State Patrol said Woodard exercised "extraordinarily poor judgment," but did not act criminally.

They're frustrated that police officers accompanied Brame to a divorce court hearing and think people knew of Brame's abusive behavior toward his wife; officers say they didn't and were ordered by Brame to accompany him.

"I'm not a vengeful person, (but) they've had their cake and are still eating it," Pim said.

Crystal's friends view police and city officials with a wary eye, even while acknowledging that there are good cops and city employees.

"I certainly don't trust cops any more," Zimmerman said. "You think they're here to serve and protect."

After Crystal's killing, she said, "you think twice."

"It saddens me. Somebody isn't just hurt, they're dead."

Rank-and-file police officers say Brame shifted blame for his actions onto the department when he killed himself.

But if Crystal's friends are hard on police and city officials, they're also tough on themselves.

Phillips said she wrestled with grief and with feeling responsible for her friend's death for six months, even though she repeatedly urged Crystal to stay away from her husband. Phillips, who also left a bad marriage, urged Crystal to get a bodyguard.

"It was remorse," Phillips said, explaining her sorrow. "Our lives were intertwined. My divorce prompted her to file for divorce."

Phillips, Zimmerman and Pim all said they felt there was no way they could inform authorities of Crystal's situation without making matters worse. They feared contacting police would result in her husband retaliating against Crystal. Seven years before her death, Crystal filed a complaint with police, only to be treated badly by her husband later, they noted.

"I told her, 'Don't do anything to piss off the dragon,'" Phillips said.

Zimmerman said she knew nothing about Crystal's tumultuous marriage until two weeks before she was shot, though she suspected something might be wrong. When Zimmerman learned of Crystal's fears, she urged her to "go underground" and take her kids with her. Crystal refused and said her husband would hunt her down.

"I should have done something. I should have at least called Patty and Lane (Judson, Crystal's parents)," Zimmerman said. "I will never ever forget."

Zimmerman now finds herself on the lookout for women who might be abused. She looks for those who have low self-esteem.

Pim, whom Crystal called "Auntie Donel," said that given another chance, she would be more "bullheaded" with Crystal and insist her parents be told earlier the extent of what she was facing. Crystal's family learned more about her tumultuous home life after she filed for divorce.

Crystal gave Pim David Brame's license plate number, so that she could identify him if she saw him in the neighborhood. Pim carried it on the dash of her car.

"She gave it to me to keep my eyes peeled if I spotted him. I never did," she said.

Pim said she did everything she could for Crystal.

"We can't bring Crystal back, but we can rise up," she said. "If one in three gals need help, if only one has been helped, we're better off."

Crystal's friends say they want other victims of domestic violence in Tacoma to escape Crystal's fate. They also want Crystal's two children cared for and not forgotten.

"These children come first over everyone else," Phillips said.

Crystal's friends remember her in everyday details, like the small bunch of yellow flowers mixed in with a spring bouquet in Phillips' tanning salon.

"You have no idea how hard it is. I don't look at yellow the same way," she said.

Martha.Modeen: 253-597-8646

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