Pierce County sheriff's deputies should have investigated a 1988 rape allegation against late Tacoma Police Chief David Brame but were never told of it, law enforcement officials say.
A woman's allegation prompted the police department's Internal Affairs unit to investigate Brame in 1988, when he was a patrolman. The case was ruled "not sustained," meaning the investigation was unable to determine wheth-er the rape happened.
However, sheriff's officials say the incident should have been handled as a potential criminal matter and investigated by deputies because the attack was alleged to have occurred in unincorporated Pierce County, which is the jurisdiction of the sheriff's department.
"It never was referred by TPD and it was never reported to us independently," sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said. "The first we ever heard about it was when it broke" in news reports.
Pierce County's chief criminal deputy prosecutor, Jerry Costello, said the allegation should have been sent to prosecutors if there was sufficient evidence or suspicion of a crime.
Prosecutors likewise have no record of the allegation.
"It never got to our office for a charging decision," said deputy prosecutor Kit Proctor, who was a member of the prosecutors' office when the rape allegation surfaced in 1989.
"I don't understand how come the internal (police) investigators, upon hearing this, didn't make a public referral about it" to the sheriff's office or prosecutors, she said.
Brame ascended the ranks and became chief in 2002. Last month, as he and his wife, Crystal, progressed through a messy divorce, Brame fatally shot her, then killed himself. The rape allegation became public days after the shootings.
No file of the Internal Affairs investigation into the accusation exists.
The department's official copy was destroyed after three years, according to police department policy. Outside investigators reviewing the Brame scandal have not found any officer's personal copy of the case.
Current police officials declined to comment about what happened with the investigation.
Retired police Lt. Dave Olsen, one of two Internal Affairs investigators who reviewed the allegation in the late 1980s, said the investigative report was forwarded to then-Chief Ray Fjetland.
Olsen said he does not know what happened next but that proper procedure would have called for sending the reports and evidence to prosecutors.
"It would have been absolutely required that somebody at least give a heads up to the county and just let them know what was going on," he said.
"I don't remember who did it or whether it was done. That would have been the right thing to do."
Fjetland, who ruled the allegation "not sustained," has said he did not recall the incident being described to him as a rape. He has said he remembers the incident being about Brame's uncontrolled anger and of rough sex as part of an ongoing intimate relationship.
Fjetland declined to comment for this article, citing the ongoing investigations.
Two retired Tacoma assistant police chiefs who spent time in Internal Affairs say they would have recommended a criminal investigation had the allegation been brought to them.
"In a heartbeat," said Ray Roberts, who retired last year after nearly 30 years with Tacoma police.
"I could see where they might not, but I would still have turned it over," said James Knutsen, who retired in 1986. "You want an independent investigation of such a serious allegation."
Both said the department's chief makes the ultimate decision on whether a criminal investigation is launched after a complaint comes to Internal Affairs.
The woman has alleged Brame raped her after they returned to his Spanaway-area home after a date. Months later she told two friends, Tacoma police officer Reggie Roberts and local attorney Walt DePuy. Two Internal Affairs investigators then contacted her.
The woman said that as far as she knew, the Internal Affairs investigation was the first step in reporting the incident as a crime.
"I believed that I did what I was supposed to do and I believed they were going to do whatever needed to be done," she said.
At the end of the investigation the woman received a letter from Fjetland stating he had ruled her complaint "not sustained." He wrote that Brame was upset about her allegations, and would be sent to see a police psychologist.
"I believed we had gone to the highest place we could go and if they didn't believe me, what else could I do," she said.
It remains unclear why sheriff's officials were never told of the rape allegation and who should have notified them.
Had deputies been told of the accusation, they would have taken an initial report and talked to the victim, Troyer said.
Depending on where the investigation led, sheriff's investigators might have collected evidence and executed search warrants at Brame's home, he said.
Generally, once law enforcement officers finish an investigation they forward the results to prosecutors for a charging decision.
"When police come to us and they want to talk about any kind of investigative matter, we want to see reports," said Costello, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor. "And we want to see a file opened up, even if it's a case that seems like we wouldn't charge it."
Deputy prosecutors say that had the Brame rape allegation come to their attention, either from a law enforcement officer or formally from the victim, a file would have been created.
Even if prosecutors had decided not to press charges, there likely still would be paperwork indicating why no charges were brought, Costello said. No such file exists in the Brame matter, he said.
Had the woman making the allegation contacted prosecutors less formally, "it becomes speculative as to how we would have handled it," Costello said.
The woman has told The News Tribune that DePuy mentioned the allegation to a county prosecutor. The woman says she thinks the prosecutor was a woman, but recalls little else about her.
The prosecutor told DePuy the case might be strong enough for criminal charges, the woman said.
Deputy prosecutor Proctor said Friday that she knew DePuy, a former Pierce County juvenile prosecutor who has since died. She said she doesn't know whether she was the prosecutor he talked to about the issue.
She said it's common for people to ask prosecutors whether a hypothetical situation could be charged.
"I would definitely remember if somebody said: 'I was raped by a cop who works for TPD,'" Proctor said. But, she said, if the details were less specific than that, she might not have remembered.
Senior deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey-Boulet, who headed the office sex-assault unit in the late 1980s, said she never heard about the allegation.
"I absolutely would remember that," she said.
Had prosecutors known of the accusation, they would have evaluated the case and Brame might one day have found himself in front of a jury.
Proctor said that had Brame told someone else he'd committed the crime, that would have enhanced the case.
Reggie Roberts and the woman both have said Brame admitted the attack to them.
Both said they shared Brame's admission with Olsen, the Internal Affairs investigator. Olsen has said he doesn't recall anything about Brame admitting he raped the woman.
Proctor said testimony about Brame's admission would have made a stronger case.
"That's a chargeable case," Proctor said. "I can't imagine anybody not giving that opinion if those were the case."
However, it might not be a winnable case.
Several months had passed before the woman made the accusation; there was no physical evidence; and the woman was reluctant to endure the rigors of a rape trial.
Prosecutors say the lack of physical evidence wouldn't necessarily have mattered.
"We go to trials on he-said, she-said," Proctor said.
"Naturally we're looking for corroborating evidence," Costello said. "But we're willing to take (he-said, she-said) cases to juries. They're not as strong, of course, but sometimes that's a matter for the jury to decide."
The prosecutors were less sure about how the length of time between the alleged attack and its report would have affected the case.
They say it is much harder to prove if the victim is reluctant to proceed, though. Costello said that in sensitive cases such as a rape, prosecutors might try to persuade the victim to go forward.
In this case, the alleged victim told The News Tribune she would have testified against Brame.
"If I had known I was believed, then yes, I would have testified."
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268