Release of Brame report delayed

No timetable: Walton says he needs more time to look it over before giving the public access

May 29, 2004 

Walton

A month after receiving a state investigation into the David Brame scandal, Tacoma City Manager Jim Walton said Friday that he needs more time to review it before releasing any parts of the report to the public.

Walton, who had previously said he needed about 30 days to digest the 12 volumes of records handed over to him last month by the Washington State Patrol, said he underestimated the size and complexity of the job, which includes numerous cross-references to other voluminous reports on the Brame case.

He wouldn't say how much longer it might be until portions of the document are released, but said that the pace of the review has picked up since he assembled a four-person team to help him.

"It is an enormous task and we need to do it right," Walton said. "I didn't think it would be this involved until I got into it."

The investigation is the last of three major investigations stemming from the April 2003 shooting in which Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself. It examines 33 allegations of misconduct by at least 32 city and police department employees linked to the Brame case. A separate federal inquiry into possible public corruption is ongoing.

Examples of potential misconduct cited by state investigators include:

•Actions taken by former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard.

•Attendance at Brame's divorce hearing by subordinates.

•The failure of Brame's co-workers to notify city officials of his mental deterioration and pre-occupation with sexual topics.

•Knowledge among Brame's co-workers of his sexual harassment of a female officer.

•Knowledge among Brame's co-workers of domestic violence in his marriage.

The News Tribune has requested a copy of the administrative report under the state's public records law. Letters from the newspaper's attorney to city leaders argue that records of the investigation are public and should be disclosed immediately. City leaders refuse to release the records, arguing that the investigation is "ongoing" until Walton concludes his review and is therefore exempt from disclosure.

Because it's possible that some employees could be disciplined or even fired, Walton said it's important to tread carefully. It's also possible, he noted, that some of the allegations are unfounded. Releasing those portions of the report could unfairly harm city employees and expose the City of Tacoma to potential lawsuits, he said.

"This is no play matter," Walton said. "We can't be playing games with the lives of people."

Large portions of the administrative report already are in the public domain, either as part of a previous criminal investigation conducted by the State Patrol or a separate examination of Brame's career conducted by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

David Zeeck, executive editor of The News Tribune, cited those prior investigations as examples of timely public disclosure.

"These investigative agencies don't seem to have a problem releasing this information," he said. "This just compounds the very problem the city had in the first place. It's this lack of transparency that got them in trouble."

But the fact that earlier reports were released to the public doesn't change Walton's opinion about whether to release results of the latest administrative investigation.

"We were uncomfortable with the way they released the criminal investigation," he said, referring to the State Patrol. "They just threw it all out there without any privacy concerns."

Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who oversaw the State Patrol's criminal investigation of the Brame case, expressed concerns about the city's approach to disclosing the results of the latest investigation.

"Everything ought to be out in the open," a Gregoire spokesman said. "The only way the community can move forward is if everything is out in the open."

Walton received the report April 28 and said he began reading through it by himself, including coming into his office for approximately eight to 10 hours on the weekends, before concluding that it was too much work.

On May 18, he formed a review team consisting of assistant city attorney Jean Homan, private practice attorney Greg Murphy, retired FBI agent Doug Aukland and acting human resources director Woodrow Jones.

The two attorneys are helping him wade through the report. Murphy was brought in to review the portions that deal with the city attorney's office to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

Jones will be responsible for advising Walton with regard to city policies and administrative codes in instances where an allegation is sustained.

If any allegation is sustained against a police employee, Aukland will help to make sure that the city complies with labor contract requirements, Walton said.

So far, the team has reviewed five of the allegations and is now analyzing the remaining 28 allegations.

The remaining work should go more quickly because of the organization that has already been completed, Walton said.

City Council members are supportive of Walton's handling of the investigation.

Mayor Bill Baarsma said Walton was hit with a "huge document dump" at the same time he was working on developing a strategic plan for the city and working on budget matters.

"Everything kind of came in on him like a tidal wave," Baarsma said.

Baarsma added that he continues to subscribe to the belief that the city should "let it all hang out" and he has confidence in Walton and the team he assembled.

Councilman Mike Lonergan said he is pleased Walton sought help.

"I just know that with the nature of his job, it wasn't humanly possible to do what he set out to do," Lonergan said.

Even after the investigation is complete, the city doesn't intend to release any parts of it that deal with allegations that were determined to be unfounded, Walton said. That's standard procedure in personnel investigations, he said, and it's supported by labor union agreements and the state public records law.

Walton admitted failure to release the entire report opens up the city to charges of a "cover-up," but said he can't be worried about public perception.

"I can't do anything about that," he said. "That will be a criticism that we'll just have to live with."

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542
jason.hagey@mail.tribnet.com
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

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