Special Reports

Crystal's family gets specific

The people Crystal Brame's family is suing wanted more information about just how they could have caused her death.

Now they have it.

Attorneys for her parents, sister and two children filed a new version of their lawsuit Thursday, alleging in detail how people and governments empowered Tacoma Police Chief David Brame and ignored signs that led him to kill his wife and then himself April 26, 2003.

Lane and Patty Judson, Julie Ahrens and children Haley and David Jr. are suing the City of Tacoma, Mayor Bill Baarsma, former City Manager Ray Corpuz and former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard and Pierce County.

"They were obligated, and they did nothing," attorney Paul Luvera said.

The once-vague lawsuit is now specific, in 35 pages, about how the family believes a culture of ignoring David Brame's violence, his lack of ethics and his emotional unraveling condoned his behavior and ultimately made Crystal Brame his victim.

Officials never investigated allegations that Brame had abused his wife, did not protect her and even intimidated her during the couple's divorce, the suit alleges.

Rob Novasky, who's representing the city and Baarsma, said the lawsuit assumes people in the city and police department knew things he's not sure they knew.

Even if they did, he said, it's not clear they had to act.

"There's a difference between a moral or ethical obligation and a legal obligation," Novasky said. "The question in litigation like this is: Was the city legally obligated to respond or protect Crystal or take action against David Brame based on information it did or did not have? The answer is ultimately what the court decides or the jury decides."

Novasky doesn't think his clients did anything wrong. For example, he said, any domestic violence in the Brame household happened in Gig Harbor, out of the Tacoma Police Department's jurisdiction.

Dan Hamilton, attorney for Pierce County, said Luvera's logic - that knowledge is liability - doesn't work, because if that were the case, the people who would be most responsible would be her family.

They aren't responsible either; David Brame is, he said.

Luvera said law enforcement has the duty to protect people and should have seen signs that Crystal Brame needed help.

"The issue becomes, what is the purpose of law enforcement?" he said.

The lawsuit includes numerous allegations against each party, including:

•The City of Tacoma hired Brame and kept him on even though he failed a psychological exam, raped a woman, sexually harassed women in the department and abused his wife. Officials allowed him to ruthlessly and destructively run the department with little oversight.

•Crystal Brame called 911 on April 11, 2003, to complain that Woodard had trespassed, and told the operator her husband had threatened her life, but Pierce County never investigated David Brame or arrested him. It was considered a civil matter and part of the divorce.

•Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor - who is not being sued but is mentioned in the complaint against the county - was with David Brame the day before the shootings and heard him complain about his divorce and say his wife had physically abused him. (Pastor says he was out of town and didn't see Brame that day.)

•Pierce County and Tacoma never investigated Brame's complaints that his wife was abusing him.

•Corpuz, who enjoyed Brame's support, said he wasn't interested in "exploring David's personal life," when media confronted him about allegations in the divorce that Brame abused his wife.

•Corpuz knew or should have known about allegations of rape, domestic violences and threats. He knew about David Brame's sexual harassment and misconduct in the police department.

•Woodard - "fully aware of the fact that David Brame was an arrogant, depraved and vindictive person who supervised by intimidation and fear" - knew about allegations of domestic violence weeks before the shooting and didn't file a report or follow procedures.

•Woodard contacted Crystal Brame, secretly took notes of their conversation, documented other information about the marriage and gave them to David Brame. She also tried to talk Crystal out of the divorce.

•While on duty, other members of the police department - including then-assistant chief William Meeks and detective Barry McColeman - gathered information for Brame about the divorce.

•Woodard and others also intimidated Crystal Brame by going to one of Brame's divorce hearings.

•Baarsma supported Brame in his quest to be police chief and during the divorce, said the allegations of abuse were "a private matter."

•Baarsma knew or should have known Brame had become unstable and had been accused and was accusing his wife of domestic violence. "Baarsma took no action, made no report, did no investigation and condoned these acts and omissions."

Woodard's lawyer, John Wolfe, said he hadn't seen the new filing but said Woodard had told investigators her involvement in the divorce was done at Brame's direction.

"I think that she certainly had concerns given his history about being retaliated against in her employment," he said.

Corpuz's attorney couldn't be reached Thursday.

Luvera filed the new complaint after King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce ordered him to do so in response to Pierce County and the City of Tacoma complaint that they couldn't respond legally to Luvera's unspecific allegations.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660