Thanks to legal wrangling and a judge's vacation, sensitive public documents related to the David Brame scandal will remain secret for another month at least.
The decision grows out of a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from then-Tacoma Police Chief Brame's fatal shooting of his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26, 2003. Crystal Brame's family contends city and police department employees knew or should have known about his erratic and violent behavior, and should have acted to prevent it before the shootings.
On Friday, attorneys for the city and the family agreed to a temporary protective order that prevents public disclosure of about 7,000 pages of Washington State Patrol investigative records related to the scandal.
The order, intended to accommodate vacationing King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce, will last until late August or early September, when the two sides will present arguments for and against disclosure. No hearing date has been set.
The city will argue for secrecy, supported by attorneys for former City Manager Ray Corpuz, former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard, and the Tacoma Police Management Association - the union representing the police department's lieutenants and captains.
All four parties have filed motions seeking to prevent the public release of the records.
Attorneys for Crystal Brame's family expect to argue for disclosure.
"Right now we don't feel there should be any restriction at all," said David Beninger, one of the attorneys representing the family.
The protected documents reflect an investigation by the State Patrol, completed April 28 and sent to Tacoma City Manager Jim Walton. Investigators examined allegations of administrative misconduct against at least 32 city and police department employees, and conducted more than 70 interviews.
Results of that investigation remain confidential. After initially promising to release the records within 30 days, Walton has twice extended the deadline, first to the end of June, then the end of July, citing the complexity of the investigation and the volume of material.
The News Tribune has filed requests for the records under the state Public Disclosure Act. The city has denied the requests, saying the investigation is incomplete.
On Wednesday, Walton said his "target date" for completion of his work on the State Patrol report is Monday. He added that the date is an optimistic target and he might not reach it.
Whatever Walton releases is likely to be heavily redacted. Some records won't be released at all.
Walton and city attorneys familiar with the records have said they will release only "sustained" complaints against employees. Any "unsustained" complaints will remain private, city leaders say, citing exemptions to public disclosure laws that protect employee privacy.
The city's stance also reflects an agreement with the police union that set the ground rules for the State Patrol investigation before it began in January.
However, attorneys for Crystal Brame's family carry additional leverage in the disclosure debate: the power of civil discovery. In court filings, the attorneys argue the right to potential evidence in the lawsuit outweighs the privacy interests of city and police department employees.
The city's attorneys have argued the opposite, but their court filings offer an alternative in case the judge disagrees: a permanent protective order that would prevent anyone but the parties in the case from examining the records. Typically, court records are open to the public.
"The documents include information about unsustained criminal or performance allegations against both private individuals and government employees having nothing to do with the issues in this case; ... names of private citizens implicated in misconduct only by rumor or by innocent acts and whose reputations may be damaged by release of the information," court documents state. "As a result, innocent people have been linked to outrageous accusations, and old and long resolved matters have been resurrected or reopened."
Beninger said even unfounded complaints might provide information relevant to the lawsuit, which hinges in part on culture and attitudes within the city and the police department.
He cited a rape allegation against David Brame, unsustained but believed to be true by police investigators, concealed from the public by a protective order in an unrelated court case and revealed only after the shootings. Some city leaders knew of the rape allegation before Brame's appointment as police chief.
"I don't think allegations should be hidden in any respect when it involves public officials," Beninger said. "If they're not sustained, they're not sustained, but the whole process is to allow a complete airing of the allegations and the underlying facts."
Staff writer Kris Sherman contributed to this report.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486