Special Reports

Release Brame records, judge says

A King County judge on Friday ordered the City of Tacoma to release records of a Washington State Patrol investigation of the David Brame scandal - records city leaders have refused to publicly release for more than two months.

Rejecting arguments against disclosure, Superior Court Judge James Cayce gave the city 30 days to provide the records to attorneys for the family of Brame's widow, Crystal. Her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, stemming from Tacoma Police Chief Brame's fatal shooting of his wife and himself April 26, 2003.

"I'm going to turn over the documents, period," Cayce said. "The plaintiff needs to get those documents."

Cayce's order gives the city seven days to justify any redactions in the documents - a likely prospect, based on the judge's statements Friday at the hearing in the Regional Justice Center in Kent.

"We know there will be some redactions," Cayce said. "We know there will be some requests for protective orders."

The hearing revealed the scale of the records, which examine allegations of administrative misconduct against nearly three dozen city and police department employees.

The records include 76 interviews conducted by State Patrol investigators. They span more than 7,000 pages and fill nine notebook binders, according to a description given in court by Tacoma assistant city attorney Jean Homan.

The city hasn't released the employees' names or allegations against them.

Since receiving the records April 28, city officials have refused to release them to the public, saying the investigation is "ongoing" until City Manager Jim Walton finishes reviewing the report.

Walton initially said his review would take 30 days but later said he underestimated the task. The News Tribune has requested the records under state public disclosure laws, but the city has rejected the requests.

In public statements, Walton and other city leaders have said they will not release records of "unsustained" complaints against city employees, citing exemptions to state public disclosure laws. They argue that airing the details of unfounded allegations would violate employee privacy.

Walton also signed an agreement in April with one of the city's police unions promising not to release records of unsustained complaints. The Tacoma Police Management Association, a group of 18 lieutenants and captains, insisted on that and other conditions before taking part in the State Patrol investigation.

Timothy Gosselin, one of the attorneys representing the city in the lawsuit, said the city has been reluctant to release records because Walton hasn't finished reviewing them.

"Our concern is that this investigation is ongoing," he said. "There's a legitimate need to maintain confidentiality for ongoing investigations. You don't want people who are being investigated to know what other people have said."

He added that the city will comply with the judge's order. He couldn't say whether the city will appeal it, but admitted it was possible.

David Beninger, one of the attorneys representing Crystal Brame's family, welcomed Friday's ruling.

"I think it was correct to compel them to comply with the discovery rules and provide full access to the documents," he said. "Our position is, they should comply without further ducking, dodging and delay."

A separate debate at Friday's hearing revolved around two other parties named in the lawsuit: Pierce County and Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma. Attorneys for both argued that they should be removed from the list of defendants.

Cayce said he expected to rule on that question next week.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486