Thirteen years ago last month marked one of the most dreadful chapters in Tacoma history: the fatal shooting of Crystal Judson Brame at the hand of her police chief husband, David Brame, who then killed himself in the same Gig Harbor strip mall parking lot.
The News Tribune spent months investigating and publishing stories about a Tacoma bureaucracy that looked the other way while its top public safety officer abused his estranged spouse. Community leaders pushed for reforms inside the city and police department. For several years after the April 26, 2003 murder-suicide, the newspaper kept the candle burning by printing an anniversary story and a running checklist of reforms – some completed, others unfulfilled.
Today, while the headlines have faded, the important work of preserving Crystal’s memory by extending help and hope to other domestic violence victims has not stopped. It is carried on by her parents, Lane and Patty Judson, and by her children, Haley and David, Jr., now young adults.
The mission is also entrusted to the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, which recently observed its 10th anniversary. The occasion – attended by local members of Congress and other dignitaries – is worth remembering for honorable reasons. The tragedy that precipitated it is worth remembering for dishonorable ones.
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The Judson center stands out among the great fulfilled promises on the community’s checklist, along with improved Tacoma police screening and hiring practices, an early-warning system to catch problem cops, and a federal law that funnels grant money to police agencies that enact meaningful domestic-violence policies.
The center’s leaders spoke with The News Tribune editorial board Wednesday about the success of their “one-stop shop” for victim services at 718 Court E. in Tacoma. Fifteen law enforcement officers and deputy prosecutors work alongside each other, down the hall from social service providers – everyone from civil legal advocates to counselors to volunteer chaplains.
Abuse victims can find emergency housing aid, transportation assistance, help filing police reports and protection-order paperwork and much more. And they can do it without the hassle of driving all over town, without the anguish of telling their stories over and over.
Word is getting around. The center reported 2,639 client visits in 2015, up 15 percent since 2012. It took 4,077 calls on its Helpline last year, and had 795 children walk through the door.
Alas, there’s more than enough suffering to fill the lobbies of other agencies, too. Pierce County Community Connections and the local YWCA both told News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll this month that they’re seeing more victims, and more intense cases.
The Judson center has been blessed with stability since it opened in late 2005. Susan Adams, a former Pierce County deputy prosecutor, has been executive director from the start. County Councilman Rick Talbert, who was on the City Council at the time of the Brame killings and during the reckoning afterward, serves as board chairman. And of course, the Judson family bolsters the mission through public speaking and private communications.
Funding has held fairly steady with a strong dependence on taxpayers: Of the center’s $1.25 million in revenue in 2015, all but $53,400 was provided by federal and local government sources.
There is some concern that public support might erode once the center’s figureheads eventually move on and the horrific events of 2003 grow more distant.
“The further we get away from Crystal’s death, my fear has always been that people forget why we’re doing what we are doing,” Talbert said.
For the sake of thousands of battered women and men and their displaced children whose desperation may never yield a headline, the South Sound must not allow that fog to creep in.
Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once wrote: “For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act.”
Wise words from a man who, like domestic violence survivors, knows more than a little about hell on earth.