Special Reports

Crystal's family offers to settle

Crystal Brame's family today will offer to settle its claim against the City of Tacoma for far less than the $75 million it originally asked for, but has stepped up its demands for "truth-telling and accountability."

The family plans to file a revised version of the claim today and will offer to settle for the amount of the city's insurance, which could be $9 million.

The offer is good for 30 days, and only if the city promises to give the family and the public all the information it has about the late Police Chief David Brame, who fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26.

The family also wants city employees who knew about David Brame's lethal personality to be disciplined and for the city to create a system to protect and aid future victims of domestic violence.

The revised claim also demands the city help the family collect "sworn testimony" from employees who might know about misconduct related to David Brame.

The claim is a step toward a lawsuit the family has said it might file because it believes the city is responsible for Crystal Brame's death.

It was filed by Crystal Brame's parents, Lane and Patty Judson, and by her sister, Julie Ahrens, for themselves and on behalf of David and Crystal Brame's children, 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old David Jr.

"We want to let the citizens of Tacoma know that the obligation is on the city fathers now to make a decision: Are they going to assist us in coming up with the truth, or go through a costly lawsuit?" Lane Judson said Wednesday.

"We want to know why our daughter got murdered by a chief who should've never been the chief of police. The processes or policies or procedures are broken."

Mayor Bill Baarsma, reached in Boston while on vacation, wouldn't comment on the revised claim because he hadn't seen it and because it's a subject of pending litigation.

But he said City Council members want answers, too.

"As I've said many times, 'The truth will set us free,'" Baarsma said. "We are cooperating totally and fully and completely with all of the investigations that are ongoing, and we will continue to do so. And we are confronting the issue of domestic violence from every available perspective."

Council members Connie Ladenburg and Rick Talbert are heading a city task force on the issue, he pointed out.

The council also "did a rather extraordinary thing" by waiving its attorney-client privilege so city attorneys could speak freely to investigators, Baarsma said.

Councilwoman Sharon McGavick also wouldn't comment on the amount of the revised claim, but she said she's always believed the city should do everything it could to learn the truth and share that information with the public.

"With or without the claim, my expectation was that we would investigate it thoroughly," she added. "I think we all want to know."

She also expects "that there will be reprimands for people that were involved or did any wrongdoing."

"If there was any cover-up, I think there should be reprimands, absolutely," McGavick said. "I don't think that's unreasonable."

Judson attorney Paul Luvera said the family revised the claim because it believes the City Council has focused only on the $75 million and offered to negotiate a smaller settlement for the Brames' two children.

The council has made no reference to the family's demands for a public investigation of city employees, Luvera said.

Lane Judson said he was offended that city officials had "dangled some money in front of the children and said they're poor orphans" without assuring the family there would be a full investigation of how a future wife-killer had become police chief.

The initial claim was filed June 9. Under the law, the City Council had 60 days to respond before the family could sue. The council contacted the family on the 59th day.

Luvera said he was furious the council didn't notify the family until the last moment. He was emphatic that the council must act more quickly on the new 30-day offer.

"If I hear from them on the 29th day, they will get sued," Luvera said. "They have 30 days, and they'd better use it wisely. Here's a golden opportunity to protect the taxpayers by settling for the amount of the insurance."

Part of today's claim is a request that the city release to Luvera all information about its insurance policies.

At the time of the shootings, the city had a $5 million liability insurance policy, a $3 million self-insurance fund and about $1 million in an insurance reserve fund. Last month, the city raised its liability coverage to $10 million.

A year ago, the city had a $20 million liability insurance policy, but reduced the amount because rates had risen. Luvera said he thinks it's possible that, because Brame was hired as chief while that policy was in effect, the insurance company might still be liable. But he hasn't seen the city's documents yet, he said.

Tacoma's insurance company has notified the city that it might not be responsible for paying a claim in the Brame case if there's clear evidence of wrongdoing by city employees. An executive of TIG Insurance Co. said that doesn't mean the claim will be denied, only that the company needs time to investigate the case.

The Judsons and Luvera didn't talk specifically about how they would accomplish the "truth-telling and accountability" the family seeks.

For example, the family wants the city to create an "independent authority" to investigate allegations of domestic violence against city employees.

Asked who would pick the authority members and whether Luvera and the family would be involved, the attorney declined to answer, saying he didn't want to negotiate the details of the agreement in the newspaper.

When the city denied the original claim, City Council members said the city was not responsible for Crystal Brame's death. In the revised claim, Luvera gives several reasons the family believes the city is responsible:

•David Brame was hired as a police officer despite negative recommendations from two psychologists.

•The police department didn't properly investigate and discipline David Brame after a 1988 rape allegation, and failed to investigate the allegation when it resurfaced in 2001.

•The city didn't properly supervise Brame after the negative psychological examinations and the rape allegation, according to the claim.

•Promoting Brame despite the negative marks on his record encouraged him and others to "achieve through abuse" and believe they were above the law.

•The city didn't properly investigate allegations Brame had sexually harassed a subordinate.

•When anonymous police officers wrote a letter accusing Brame of misconduct, city officials failed to investigate.

•The city lacks an adequate system for handling domestic violence reports from police family members.

•The city doesn't have an adequate policy for helping officers undergoing stressful events.

•The city didn't try to prevent officers from intimidating co-workers' spouses involved in divorce.

•The city didn't intervene after allegations that Brame abused his wife were made public. The city could have ordered a psychological evaluation, taken his gun and badge and relieved him of his duties, the claim contends.

•The city did not require David Brame to undergo psychological testing after the rape and sexual harassment allegations were raised.

Staff writer Kris Sherman contributed to this report.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658


What's next

• The City of Tacoma has 30 days to respond to the revised claim made by Crystal Brame's family.

• The city will also be reviewing the family's settlement offer.

• The state Attorney General's Office will review the Washington State Patrol's criminal investigation into the David Brame case and decide whether charges should be brought.