Special Reports

David Brame's life, career crumble when wife seeks a way out

David Brame's tenure as Tacoma's police chief began with high hopes and ambitious plans.

But his gleaming public image was a facade, masking a marriage tainted by domestic violence, and a department command staff fractured by dissension and internal rivalries.

Brame's personal troubles swamped his professional life, and colleagues began to notice.

His estranged wife, Crystal, began to fear her husband's increasingly erratic behavior. Weeks before April 26, when he fatally shot her and then himself, at least one member of Brame's command staff knew the chief had threatened his wife's life.

At least four times in 2002, according to court documents, he choked his wife during violent fights.

After each incident, Crystal told her family, he sent flowers the next day, along with a card signed "Your Secret Admirer." He used the flowers to provoke new fights, accusing his wife of having an affair.

Brame turned out to be the one seeking an affair.

He pursued a female officer, urging her to participate in a sexual threesome with him and Crystal. Though the frightened officer refused, Brame persisted, and shared his plans with his wife as if they were true. Crystal resisted, but Brame did not give up.

In the department, he gradually surrounded himself with loyal commanders, and forced out or marginalized enemies.

He forced assistant chief Ray Roberts, an old rival, to retire by threatening to slash his pension. Another assistant chief, John Batiste, left after Brame used a minor personal incident to force his departure.


'I want you to call her'

By January, Batiste was gone. Brame had another vacancy in his inner circle, and he promoted Richard McCrea to assistant chief. Like Don Ramsdell, McCrea rose from captain to assistant chief in less than seven months.

In November and December, Brame had repeatedly pressured Crystal to consider a sexual threesome with the female officer, never telling his wife of the officer's reluctance.

Wearily, Crystal said she wasn't interested. Later, she told her sister, Julie Ahrens, how he had responded, reminding Crystal of a brief encounter at the Tacoma Mall in November.

"I thought you wanted her," Brame said. "You said 'Hi' to her."

He left for Virginia in mid-January on a two-week trip to the FBI Training Academy. From the East Coast, he called Crystal several times, urging her to call the officer.

Records of Brame's calls on his department-issued cell phone show two calls to his Gig Harbor home shortly after 10 p.m. on Jan. 28, a Tuesday.

Weeks later, Crystal recounted to her sister one of Brame's long-distance conversations.

"I want you to call her," Brame said. "I want you to call her."

"Screw you," Crystal said. "I'm not calling her."

"I told her you were going to call her," Brame said, though he had not done so.

Angrily, Crystal dialed the woman's number, just to get David to shut up. What was he saying to this woman? What was he doing with her?

The woman answered, surprised by Crystal's voice.

"Did my husband tell you I was going to call you?" Crystal asked.

The two women spoke for a while, rambling on about mundane topics but deliberately avoiding the subject of Brame's proposal.

His phone records show a third call Jan. 28 to the officer's home, just before 11 p.m. He asked her whether Crystal had called.

Crystal knew her husband would return in a few days, at the end of January. When he came home, they were going to talk.


'Accidents happen'

On Feb. 7, a news story reported Brame's tour of the police department's new 36-foot mobile command RV, providing more positive public relations for the department.

But that night, the fighting at Eagle Creek Lane turned venomous. Crystal later described it to her family and her longtime friend, Donelda Pim.

Again Brame urged Crystal to share their bed with the woman officer, not mentioning her reluctance. Again, Crystal refused. She mentioned divorce.

"You will never leave me," he said. "No woman will ever leave me."

Brame talked about his money and his pension. She wouldn't get near it.

"I'll kill you before you see any of my deferred comp," he told her.

A few days later, Brame proposed something new. He told Crystal he had offered her to someone else - a retired police officer who was having a birthday. While she pleased the man, Brame would watch.

The idea repulsed her. First the other woman, now this.

Rancor spread through the marriage, reaching its apex the evening of Feb. 15. Crystal later described that frightening night to her attorney and her friend Donelda.

Brame wanted to go out to a local restaurant with a few friends from the department, and he wanted Crystal to go along. She told him she didn't want to, that she didn't feel well.

Seeming to give up, Brame asked where his navy blue turtleneck was - the one that made him look good.

In the closet, she replied.

He told her to show him - he didn't know where the shirt was. She entered the walk-in closet, and flipped through the shirts.

Brame stored his department-issued gun here, on a shelf low enough for the children to reach. Crystal noticed him standing in the closet doorway. Was he blocking her exit?

He moved toward the gun and picked it up.

"I want to show you something," he said.

Abruptly, he talked about handling weapons, how she ought to consider some firearms training.

"Here, hold it," he said, pushing the gun toward her, trying to put it in her hand.

She didn't want to take it.

"I'm not gonna fall for this," Crystal said.

Brame pointed the barrel of the gun at her face.

"Accidents happen," he said.

Less than a week later, Crystal hired an attorney.


Slipping away

It wasn't the first time she had considered divorce. Back in 1997, her parents and sister say, she had visited a lawyer and discussed it.

The Tacoma attorney's office was near the police station. Brame, driving by, had seen Crystal's car, barged in and begged his wife to reconsider.

He had promised to change. Ultimately she had given in, but not because she believed him. She had learned she was pregnant with David Jr., the couple's second child.

This time she would not give in. Over the course of several days, she signed divorce papers and a declaration that outlined her financial demands. The package of documents was filed Feb. 24 in King County.

She chose not to file in Pierce County to keep the divorce as quiet as possible, and avoid angering her husband. She did not describe the details of her abusive marriage.

"She did not want him to lose his job," said Crystal's brother-in-law, David Ahrens. "She wanted to make sure the kids were taken care of."

Crystal moved out of the house with the children the same day.

Brame was served with the papers. As he read, he saw control of his life slipping away.

He would see his children every other weekend. His mother would not see them at all - Crystal demanded the children have no contact with her.

His $140,000-a-year income would be cut in half. His wife was demanding more than $5,300 per month. She expected him to move out but continue to cover the house payment, while providing child support and spousal maintenance. And she wanted him to pay the $7,500 she owed her attorney.

Tacoma's police chief faced the prospect of taking home less money than his lieutenants.

In desperation, he spoke to Crystal and confessed a host of sins: dalliance with prostitutes, and a liaison with a female co-worker - not the one he had tried to lure into a threesome.

His words swung between contrition and arrogance. If she divorced him, he could have any woman he wanted, he said - but he wanted her. And he could change. He understood now. He had just finished reading a book on marriage by Dr. Phil, the television therapist.

He still hoped for reconciliation. He wanted to meet. He had asked police chaplain Bill Bowlby to speak to both of them. Reluctantly, Crystal agreed.

The trio met for more than an hour in late February. Citing ministerial privilege, Bowlby will not discuss his conversation with the couple. But Crystal described the meeting to her friends and family.

The chaplain reminded Crystal of their sacred wedding vows, sworn before God. Her husband was heartsick, he said.

Angrily, Crystal rattled off her husband's transgressions: Adultery. Prostitutes. Pressure for group sex. Offering her to other men.

"What does your God say about that?" Crystal asked.

Bowlby suggested the couple could work out their problems. Crystal was incensed.

This was her husband's employee, invading the most personal aspects of her private life. She left the meeting and returned to her parents' house.

Brame didn't give up. He gave his wife's cell phone number to Bowlby, assistant chief Catherine Woodard and others in the department. Besieged by calls from David and his allies, Crystal bought a new phone and changed her number.

Brame, sensing now that his wife would not budge, spoke to Shelley Kerslake, the assistant city attorney who had worked with the department on several cases, including the Joe Kirby lawsuit that revealed the 1988 rape allegation against him.

Kerslake had helped him then. Could she help him now?

She gave him names: law firms and a psychiatrist and psychologist. Then she asked whether Brame could score her free tickets to a basketball tournament.

Within a few days, he chose an attorney - Anne Meath of Davies Pearson in Tacoma. Meath wanted a retainer of $3,000. Already, his money was burning up.

The weekend of March 1 marked the first transfer of the children since Crystal had moved out of the Gig Harbor house. For the next six weeks, these moments would be the only contact the couple would have - and they were never alone together. Crystal and her family made sure of that.

MARCH 2003

A flood of secrets

Brame's personal troubles began to dominate his waking hours, consuming so much time and energy that his professional obligations were pushed aside.

On March 3, he spent almost two hours on his city phones, talking to Bowlby; his sister, Jane Brazell; and his attorney, whom he would call at least 40 times that month.

Alone in the family house, Brame sometimes puttered on his police computer, adjusting schedules and writing memos. One haunting note appeared on his appointment calendar around this time, an entry his assistant did not write. It was no appointment, only a few lonely words typed into the empty space for a Sunday:

"I love Haley and David Jr."

He didn't bother to clean. The carpets and counters, so diligently scoured by Crystal to her husband's specifications, gathered dust and grime. When she and her mother visited the house March 13, they found a mess and Crystal's mail in the garbage.

Free from David now, Crystal unleashed a flood of long-held secrets. Her family had known of David's controlling nature, but little more.

Now, with her parents, her sister, and her friends Liz Zimmerman, Lori Ham, Donelda Pim and Debbie Phillips, she shared stories of her husband's abuse, his demands for group sex and his increasing death threats.

She said David continued to call her, to ask where she was, what she was doing, whom she was with. She feared he was following her.

To Phillips, she mentioned Brame's repeated references to wedding vows and Biblical verses forbidding divorce. "Remember the wedding vows," Brame would say.

"Remember the wedding vows? Why?" Phillips asked Crystal.

"Because it says 'till death do us part,'" Crystal replied.

"You stay away from him," Phillips said.


'I want to apologize'

On March 14, a police department memo announced the official retirements of Lt. Darrell Hughes and "Iron Mike" Darland.

With Darland's departure, the leader of the old guard was gone. No enemies were left. Brame had an assistant chief's vacancy to fill - a spot for someone who would work closely with him.

It was his weekend to visit the children. The pickup time was 4:30, but he had missed a message from Crystal, telling him she was going to be a little late and to come half an hour later.

He arrived at her parents' house on time, he thought. But no one was home, except David Jr. and Crystal's father, Lane Judson, who recalls the conversation with his son-in-law that day.

Brame stood on the doorstep. Judson glared.

"I thought Crystal called you and changed the time," Judson said.

"I guess I'm here a little early," Brame said, looking at the ground.

He paused and said something else.

"I want to apologize for all the problems I have caused."

"You have a lot of people you need to apologize to," Judson said.

For a moment, Brame was silent.

"Well, I'll go home," he said, and left.

When David returned a short time later to pick up the children, Crystal asked for money to buy the children shoes. He still hadn't given her any, and the money she had borrowed from her parents was running out. Crystal's mother heard her son-in-law's reply.

"Before I give you or the children any money, I will see you dead first," Brame said.


'Stay out of my divorce'

In the police department, decisions waited.

Kerslake wanted a job - she was trying to shift from the city attorney's office to work for the police department and Brame directly - a proposal he had made months earlier but hadn't yet completed. Now deadlines approached, and Kerslake needed answers.

Brame still hadn't filled Darland's old office.

Crystal was asking him for money. He hadn't signed the agreement sent by his own attorney that cemented the $3,000 retainer.

He had to respond to court filings and Crystal's demands. He had to move out of the Gig Harbor house and get an apartment.

He withdrew $10,500 from his bank account, then changed the conditions for future withdrawals. They would require two signatures. Now Crystal couldn't get at the money without his knowledge.

On March 25, Crystal filed a new declaration in the divorce case. In it, she stripped the veneer from their marriage, accusing him of years of abuse, of pointing a gun at her, of choking her.

She had hoped to avoid it, according to her family, but David left her no choice. He continued to threaten her life and refused to leave the Gig Harbor house. He fought to move the court proceedings to Pierce County, where Crystal feared he would seal records of the case and drag it out for months.

Now Brame faced the exposure he feared. Everything in the court file was public record: his dream job, tarnished.

His community would see a portrait of Tacoma's police chief, fond of group sex, abusive to his wife, threatening to kill her. Any reporter could find it.

His reputation, his career, his position - the 22 years he had spent polishing his image - all of it was threatened.

He told anyone who would listen that Crystal was going to destroy him.

A day later, Crystal's car was parked at Allenmore Medical Center in Tacoma. While she was inside the building, someone banged into the car on the driver's side and drove away.

Her nerves were on edge. She had been telling friends and her family that she thought her husband was tracking her. Was it just an accident?

The damage wasn't that serious. A pair of police officers responded and treated it as a hit-and-run. She told them she was the police chief's wife and that they were going through a divorce.

"My husband is pursuing other interests," she said.

The officers relayed the information to police headquarters. From there, Lt. Bob Ruiz hand-carried the information to Brame.

On March 31, Catherine Woodard called Crystal at the Judson home. To others, Woodard often described herself as Crystal's friend. Crystal didn't see it that way. She turned up the volume on the telephone receiver so her parents could hear.

Woodard wanted to talk. She wanted to have lunch with Crystal and discuss the problems with David.

"No, I am not going to go to lunch," Crystal said. "Stay out of my divorce."

"No," Woodard said. "I'm going to be very involved in your divorce."

Woodard took handwritten notes of the conversation. After the shooting, investigators found them in Brame's Tacoma apartment.

The News Tribune has learned that Woodard's notes, dated March 31, mention Crystal's complaints about Brame's efforts to arrange a threesome with the female officer earlier in the year, as well as his attempt to offer her to another man.

The notes also describe Crystal telling Woodard that David must "stop sending death threats."

No record shows that Woodard passed the information to anyone other than Brame.



Brame filed his formal response to Crystal's divorce petition on April 3. He filled 20 pages with replies to each of her accusations. She was the abuser, he said, a foul-mouthed, unstable spouse determined to destroy his career.

He charged her with beating the children so much he had to protect them with his body as she rained blows upon them.

The accusations against him of death threats, choking and controlling behavior were lies, he said, part of his wife's unstable character. The same went for her charges against Brame's mother.

He included documents he had been saving, dating back to fights he and Crystal had in 1996. Brame had told Gig Harbor police about that incident and had Lt. Bill Meeks videotape his injuries, but he hadn't wanted her arrested then, he said.

He said Crystal had punched him. He included pictures - taken by his mother, he said - of an ugly bruise on his arm, supposedly left by Crystal's small fist.

Crystal and her family had expected the counterblows from David. He had boasted of his plan to her, she said. The bruise on his arm came from a dropped barbell. As it discolored, he told her he would blame her for it if she tried to leave him.

He would tell the authorities she was crazy. They would believe him, he told her. He was the police chief.

Today, Brame's father still insists Crystal's claims of abuse were false.

"David never struck Crystal," says Eugene Brame, Sr. "During their entire marriage, he never struck her."

APRIL 5-10, 2003

'Tiny, useless pieces'

With his divorce shifting into overdrive, Brame's demeanor began to draw attention. Details of his marital troubles spread through the city's power circles.

Kerslake offered to let him pick up a spare mattress - something he would need in his new apartment. At some point, Brame spoke with Corpuz about the divorce, but the former city manager declines to describe their conversation.

Brame was missing appointments. People were noticing, including Tacoma Fire Chief Eileen Lewis, who spoke with him April 3 and noticed Brame was losing weight.

"He discussed that he and his wife were separated," Lewis says, "and possibly certain things might come out in the divorce that might impact his career."

On April 5, Brame's assistant, Jeannette Blackwell, reminded him not to miss an April 16 meeting with Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor.

"You didn't show up for the last meeting after he waited for 30 minutes for you. We need to salvage that partnership," she chided.

As an afterthought, Blackwell added a word of encouragement.

"Remember ... nothing you do is alone," she said. "God is with you at ALL times."

April 7 was a Monday. That night, Syracuse faced Kansas for the national champion of college basketball. Brame, a varsity basketball player in his high school days, still followed the sport.

Tipoff was scheduled for 6 p.m. Brame, rattling around the empty house where he'd lived alone for six weeks, planned to watch the game with Meeks.

Meeks sent an e-mail, offering to pick up a pizza on the way over.

"Sausage ok with U?" he wrote.

"Yes," Brame replied. "Anything that used to be long, but is now cut up into tiny useless pieces would be fine."

That night, Brame talked to Meeks for hours about the divorce. He held copies of Crystal's court declarations in his hand, and read excerpts to his friend. But he wouldn't let Meeks read it.

"Now I know why," Meeks says.

Brame told Meeks that Crystal would destroy his career.

"She may embarrass you," Meeks replied. "But what will get you fired is if you don't get your ass in your chair and start making decisions."

The week went downhill from there. The next day, Crystal and her family filed new declarations in the divorce case.

Crystal's brother-in-law, David Ahrens, called Brame "an abusive and contemptible father and spouse." Her sister, Julie, accused Brame of leaving loaded guns within reach of the children. Patty Judson recounted the death threat overheard in March.

Crystal filed a new statement, detailing multiple death threats, choking and the "accidents happen" gunpoint threat. She wanted a personal restraining order against Brame, and she wanted money.

That same day, Brame called a colleague into his office. Slowly, the chief peeled away the layers of his crumbling marriage.

"Can you guess why we're getting divorced?" Brame asked.

Oh, no. He's making me guess, his subordinate thought.

"It's embarrassing," Brame said. "It's my fault."

The chief unloaded. He and Crystal had "explored" the idea of adding a third person to their sex life, he said - a Tacoma police officer.

Crystal was jealous, Brame said. She had accused him of having an affair. Now he feared the sordid story would spill into the newspapers and destroy his career.

His colleague, knowing nothing of Crystal's abuse allegations, offered a note of hope.

"Married couples talk about private things in the bedroom," he said. "The paper wouldn't print this."

Mired in his troubles, Brame became more difficult to reach. For several days, department spokesman Jim Mattheis tried to meet with the chief and settle some routine business. Brame was never available.

Stymied, Mattheis asked Woodard what was going on. Don't worry about it, she replied - it's not about you.

The next day, Brame called Mattheis into his office and told him about the divorce, saying some of the details would make him look bad.

One afternoon that week, Brame invited Mattheis to the Gig Harbor house. He needed someone to talk to, he said.

Mentioning the divorce again, he told Mattheis a little more.

"He talked about somebody in the city that Crystal wanted to have a fling with, or they did, or whatever," Mattheis says.

On April 10, Brame and Crystal met in court.

Crystal brought her sister and her parents, Lane and Patty Judson, to the Kent courtroom. Brame brought three subordinates: Woodard, Mattheis and detective Barry McColeman. They came at his request. Mattheis and McColeman say they took time off that day; Woodard would not respond to requests for comment.

At the time, Julie Ahrens saw the officers and wondered: Why would David bring three subordinates to his divorce hearing?

She noticed Woodard - staring fixedly, Julie thought, at Crystal. Was that supposed to be intimidating? Julie stared back.

The attorneys haggled over details. As the hearing ended, Brame's attorney, Ann Meath, spoke to Crystal and her attorney, Joseph Lombino.

Crystal said she wanted some clothes. She had asked David to bring some dresses to her, and he hadn't. Meath suggested that Lane, Patty, Julie or all of them could come to the house and get them. The family agreed.

What happened next is a matter of fierce disagreement between Crystal's family and the police officers who attended the hearing.

Mattheis and Woodard say Meath agreed that Woodard would go along with Brame to retrieve the clothes from the Gig Harbor house and deliver them to Crystal.

The Judsons and Julie Ahrens say they reached an agreement with Meath that Julie, Patty and Lane would go to the house and get Crystal's clothes. They say Woodard was not mentioned.

Lombino said Meath did not mention Woodard, or any other plans or arrangements to travel to the Judson home. Meath refuses to comment.

After the hearing, an e-mail arrived at Brame's office. It came from John Hathaway, the city's self-styled "keeper of inside dirt supreme" and publisher of a Web-based newspaper, The New Takhoman, which pokes fun at Tacoma's city establishment.

The note was short; "Question" was the one-word subject line.

"Is there any truth to the rumor that you and your wife have separated and that either you or she have filed for divorce?" it read.

Brame did not reply.

APRIL 11, 2003

'The Brames are here'

Brame was scheduled to pick up the children the day after the hearing - Friday. In the afternoon, the Judsons got a call from the security guard at the community gate.

"The Brames are here," the guard said.

It sounded strange to Lane Judson. The guard had a standing order to call if anyone wanted to see Crystal or the family. How could the Brames be here?

The door opened. Woodard stood in the entrance, holding some of Crystal's clothing. David was behind her on the steps, eyes downcast.

"What are you doing here?" Patty Judson asked Woodard. "You're not a Brame."

They hadn't expected her, didn't want to see her and told her so. Twice, Crystal reached for her clothes. Twice, Woodard, who was a foot taller than Crystal, pulled them back, the Judsons said.

"Uh-uh," Woodard said. "I want to show you the clothes I've chosen for you."

Lane Judson stepped in. "I'll take those," he said, and took the dresses from Woodard.

The confrontation dissolved into an awkward transfer of the crying children to David's car and, later, a call from Crystal to 911, complaining that Woodard and Brame had misrepresented themselves and intimidated them.

Officers in the department soon learned of the encounter and bristled. They knew Brame as a hard-nosed disciplinarian. To some it seemed the chief used one set of rules for himself and another for his subordinates. A group of them began to draft a memo to the department's Internal Affairs division.

APRIL 13-17, 2003

No escape

On Sunday, April 13, Hathaway found an unexpected windfall in his mail box - a partial copy of the Brame divorce file.

He didn't know who had sent it. Rumors about the case had reached him several days earlier, but he wasn't prepared for what he was reading.

Choking. Guns. Promises to kill.

Hathaway felt sick.

The same day, at City Hall, Kerslake wrote an e-mail to City Attorney Robin Jenkinson, explaining why progress on Kerslake's new job had stalled.

Brame was too distracted to make decisions. Woodard was supposed to handle the requisition. Brame was "not focused on his work," Kerslake wrote, and Woodard still hadn't finished the paperwork.

"I think she is busy holding Brame's hand," Kerslake wrote.

At the police department, calls began to come from newspaper reporters. The News Tribune wanted to know about the divorce case and the April 11 incident. Brame ignored the calls.

He learned that an anonymous group of officers had complained about Brame and Woodard's actions on April 11 and sent a memo to Internal Affairs.

They threatened to take the case to the media. Through back channels in the city, City Manager Ray Corpuz replied that there would be no investigation of an anonymous complaint.

Everyone in the department seemed to know about Brame's troubles. One officer, Bart Hayes, sent an e-mail on April 17, expressing sympathy and recommending an attorney.

The apartment in Tacoma's Gold Pointe complex, near the Narrows Bridge, was ready. Brame had to gather his personal belongings from the Gig Harbor house and move in. He needed help. He asked Meeks, Ramsdell and McCrea to help him carry the boxes and furniture.

APRIL 15-18, 2003

'I owe him'

One more public task remained. Darland's departure had opened the door for a promotion. Brame wanted Meeks, his old friend. Others didn't.

Among the old guard, Meeks was far from popular. They saw him as Dave's intimidator - a mole who would relay damaging information to the chief and use it against others.

It didn't help that Meeks liked to tout his expertise in training and ethics. That rankled those in the department still unhappy with what they saw as the mild punishme

"What (Meeks) would joke about was my hearing impairment," Olsen said during court testimony in a lawsuit filed against the department by Lt. Joe Kirby.

"I wear hearing aids. He would joke about hearing all the time ... moving his mouth and not speaking, which is kind of a popular hearing aid joke."

Meeks, still a lieutenant then, admits teasing Olsen, but says he thought the remarks were typical department banter. After learning of the complaint, he apologized to Olsen.

Meeks also was disciplined in late summer or early fall 2002, after making a remark interpreted as insubordination by Ramsdell, then an assistant chief.

"I apologized up and down," Meeks says. "I apologized to Don."

On April 8, detective Barry McColeman met Brame at a Gig Harbor restaurant. For three hours, McColeman and Brame discussed the possible promotion of Meeks.

McColeman warned Brame against it, saying Meeks was widely disliked in the department, prone to lapses in judgment and ethically questionable.

More than once during the conversation, Brame repeated three words: "I owe him. It doesn't matter. People are going to have to deal with it."

In mid-April, Local 6 leaders conducted a survey of the rank and file, asking union members to rank 17 commanders who were eligible for promotion. Members ranked them on qualities such as honesty, truthfulness, leadership ability and leadership by example.

Jim Howatson, leader of the successful bond campaign, finished first. From the 208 union members who responded, Meeks received four votes. He was ranked fourth from the bottom.

The survey carried no official weight. It grew from concerns in Local 6 that promotions should be based on merit, not cronyism or lobbying.

Union leaders shared the results with Brame, said T.K. Knickerbocker, former spokeswoman for Local 6.

"They spoke with the chief," she said. "They said, if you promote him, this is going to have a bad effect on the ability of the union to work with you in the way we have been; do not promote Bill Meeks."

On April 18, Brame sent a departmental memo, announcing his latest promotion. Meeks would become the next assistant chief.

"I have high expectations that assistant chief Meeks will lead a reorganization and revitalization of our department's training function," Brame said in a public statement.

Union members deplored the decision. "Beyond the pale," Knickerbocker remembered.

"I talked to a number of guys, and there was some real hard feelings about the Meeks promotion," she said.

The last of the old guard was replaced. In Mike Darland's old office, Meeks arranged his knick-knacks.

Brame's inner circle was complete.

APRIL 19-20, 2003

'Do your job'

Saturday, April 19, marked the 20th anniversary of the Tacoma Dome, a celebration that drew many local leaders, including City Councilman Kevin Phelps.

The councilman noticed Brame in the crowd and sought him out. They talked about the chief's divorce. Phelps, knowing nothing of the abuse allegations Brame faced, said divorce could be difficult, but he urged the chief to focus on the big picture; life would get better.

More than once, Brame asked whether he should be concerned about his job.

"Go out and do your job and it won't be a problem," Phelps advised. Soon, the two men parted. Phelps never saw Brame again.

Far from the dome, as the weekend closed, Hathaway lingered over his prize. Nine days had passed since the court file appeared in his mailbox. He had talked to his wife and his attorney, unsure how to proceed.

Mainstream reporters were onto it now, he knew. The story was big. Every time he asked a question, he learned more - an old rape allegation against Brame, the 911 call on April 11, harassment, group sex.

The chief was the fair-haired, hometown boy, the hand-picked police prince. The city's leaders had praised him from here to Hialeah.

Slowly, Hathaway began to type, choosing phrases drawn from the film noir vernacular he loves. When he was finished, the story went to his usual e-mail list - just about everyone who mattered in the city.

That weekend in Gig Harbor, Crystal Brame went back and forth from her parents' house to Eagle Creek Lane, cleaning, running errands, preparing to move her children home.

Meanwhile, Brame spent his first weekend in his new apartment, alone with his thoughts. Tuesday, he was bound for Las Vegas, three days of seminars on labor relations and a little gambling.

In the six days ahead, the last of his life, his mood would swing from hope to gloom, from light to darkness.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486


Coming Tuesday: David and Crystal's last days


During the last 15 months of his life, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame was a man of two faces in his professional and private lives. The public saw a vigorous leader working to transform the department. Some of those on the inside, however, saw someone else - a man quick to manipulate the tools of power to crush enemies and advance supporters. At home, his 11-year marriage decayed amid private obsessions, including pursuit of an extramarital affair and group sex.



Dec. 28: City Manager Ray Corpuz selects David Brame as Tacoma's 46th police chief.


Jan. 15: Brame appoints Catherine Woodard as assistant chief.

Jan. 17: Brame's swearing-in, called "the coronation" by some.

April 6: Brame announces creation of Professional Responsibility Bureau, appoints John Batiste assistant chief.

May 13: Brame reprimands three mid-level commanders, including his friend, Capt. Bill Meeks, for mishandling evidence.

June 26: Brame sends memo to department employees on discipline and professional conduct.

Mid-July: Brame tells assistant chief Ray Roberts he plans to demote him to captain. Roberts retires July 29.

Aug. 12: Brame promotes Don Ramsdell to assistant chief.

Oct. 23: Beltway sniper suspect John Muhammad linked to Tacoma neighborhood.

Dec. 6: Assistant chief John Batiste resigns after disagreement with Brame.


Jan. 1: Brame appoints Richard McCrea assistant chief.

Jan. 19: Brame attends two-week FBI training academy in Virginia.

March 27: Deputy chief Mike Darland retires.

April 13: Web publisher John Hathaway receives partial copy of Brame divorce file.

April 14: Reporters from The News Tribune begin to ask questions about divorce case.

April 18: Brame appoints Bill Meeks assistant chief.



Sept. 15: Brame visits Gig Harbor police station and files an informational report describing a heated argument with Crystal Brame.

•Brame talks with friends and colleagues about being abused by his wife. Fellow officer Bill Meeks videotapes scratches and bruises on Brame.


Feb. 13: Brame chokes his wife; anonymously sends her flowers the following day. The pattern is repeated several times in following months.

Mid-November: Brame meets with female police officer and proposes group sex; officer refuses.


Jan. 28: From Virginia, Brame calls his wife, then a female police officer between 10 and 11 p.m.

Feb. 7: Brame and Crystal argue, and he threatens to kill her. The threat is repeated several times in following months.

Feb. 24: Crystal files for divorce in King County and moves out of Gig Harbor house, along with the children.

March 25: Crystal files new declarations in divorce case, revealing abuse allegations and death threats.

April 3: Brame files counter-declarations, charging Crystal with abuse.

April 10: Brame, Crystal and her family meet in court in Kent. Three police department subordinates, including assistant chief Catherine Woodard, accompany Brame.

April 11: Brame and Woodard appear at Crystal's parents' home to pick up children, prompting 911 call from Crystal, who alleges the pair threatened and intimidated her family.

April 17: Brame moves out of Gig Harbor home into a Tacoma apartment.

April 24: Crystal Brame's 35th birthday

April 26: Brame shoots Crystal then himself.


David Ahrens: Brother-in-law of Crystal Brame

Julie Ahrens: Sister of Crystal Brame

John Batiste: Former assistant police chief, appointed by Brame

Eugene Brame Sr.: Father of David Brame

Ray Corpuz: Tacoma city manager who appointed Brame chief

Bill Bowlby: Police chaplain and Brame confidante

Mike Darland: Deputy police chief and Brame rival

Jim Howatson: Current assistant police chief, promoted to captain by Brame

Lane Judson: Father of Crystal Brame

Patty Judson: Mother of Crystal Brame

Jim Mattheis: Tacoma police spokesman

Barry McColeman: Police detective and Brame confidante

Richard McCrea: Assistant police chief appointed by Brame

William Meeks: Assistant police chief appointed by Brame

Charles Meinema: Police captain and member of faction opposed to Brame

Don Ramsdell: Current interim police chief appointed to assistant chief by Brame

Ray Roberts: Assistant police chief demoted and forced to retire by Brame

Bob Ruiz: Police lieutenant and Brame confidante

Catherine Woodard: Assistant police chief appointed by Brame

About this series

To compile this three-part story, News Tribune reporters Sean Robinson and Martha Modeen spent four months investigating the 15-month tenure of Tacoma Police Chief David Brame and his life with Crystal Brame.

They traced the final days of the couple's lives, up to the moment when Brame fatally shot his wife and himself.

Significant reporting contributions also came from staff writers Stacey Mulick, Karen Hucks, Jason Hagey, Kris Sherman and Lisa Kremer.

Reporters interviewed more than 60 people, including 25 current and former members of the Tacoma Police Department. Information also came from public and private records, including court documents, e-mails, correspondence, telephone records, video records and appointment calendars.

Former Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz, Tacoma assistant police chief Catherine Woodard and Brame's divorce attorney, Anne Meath, declined interviews.

Comments or quotes attributed to them were gathered before the shootings or from other sources.