Special Reports

$75 million Brame suit looms

Crystal Brame's family is expected today to take the first step toward suing the city of tacoma by filing a $75 million claim, alleging city officials were responsible for her death.

The claim is expected to accuse the city of neglect for giving Tacoma Police Chief David Brame power and a gun when officials knew, or should have known, he was dangerous.

Officials should have kept an eye on him but didn't, according to a preliminary version of the claim given to The News Tribune.

David Brame fatally shot his wife and then killed himself April 26 in a Gig Harbor shopping center while their children, 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old David Jr., were nearby.

Since then, many questions have arisen about his career, including why he was hired after failing a psychological exam and how he rose through the ranks, despite an allegation that he raped a woman in the late 1980s.

City officials have never explained why Brame was hired despite the exams. City Manager Ray Corpuz has said that, before making Brame chief in 2001, he didn't know he had been accused of rape. Assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake has countered that Corpuz did know.

Crystal Brame's parents and sister are convinced the only way to find out the truth and hold the city accountable is to file a civil lawsuit and put people under oath, say sources close to the family.

Their attorney, Paul Luvera, believes people who have vital information and who could have prevented Crystal Brame's death are hiding that information, in an atmosphere of cover-up and evasion, the sources say.

Luvera is representing Crystal Brame's parents, Patty and Lane Judson, and her sister, Julie Ahrens, and her children.

The Seattle personal injury lawyer is known for his success in high-stakes cases.

Luvera last year won a $75 million settlement for the families of two boys killed in the 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham. He represented a Spanaway woman who won nearly $15.5 million in 2001 after she underwent an unnecessary hysterectomy because doctors misdiagnosed her with cancer. He also helped win a settlement with tobacco companies that will bring $4 billion to the state.

But it's not cash the Judsons want, the sources said.

If the family recovers any money, they will spend it raising Haley and David Jr. and promoting programs to prevent domestic violence - especially by law enforcement officers, sources said.

When someone wants to sue a government, they first must file a claim and then wait 60 days for a reply.

Civil defense attorneys have said anyone who sues the city or police department over Crystal Brame's death likely will face a fight over whether anyone could have stopped David Brame from killing his wife.

David Brame didn't kill her while he was on duty or because he was a police officer, they say.

The family's claim is expected to draw a picture of a volatile man working for a city that not only ignored signs he was headed for destruction, but also kept secret the rape allegation and did not investigate accusations Brame abused his wife and sexually harassed one of his police officers.

In her declarations as part of the divorce, Crystal Brame said her husband choked her, threatened to kill her and pointed a gun at her. The female officer said Brame offered to promote her in exchange for group sex.

The family's claim is likely to say Crystal Brame and her parents felt intimidated when David Brame and assistant chief Catherine Woodard came to their house April 11 to pick up the Brame children for the weekend.

Woodard has said she went with Brame because his lawyer said she should go as a witness.

As evidence the city was responsible for Brame, Luvera likely will point out that David Brame was hired in 1981 despite failing one pre-employment psychological exam and barely passing a second.

City officials didn't relieve Brame from his position or take his badge and gun before he shot Crystal Brame, Luvera is expected to say.

Specifically, the preliminary claim says the city:

Negligently promoted David Brame then retained him without watching him.

Failed to protect Crystal Brame.

Deprived Crystal Brame and her family of their constitutional right to life and liberty.

The claim, and any subsequent lawsuit, likely will seek damages for:

Crystal Brame's injuries and death, including her pain and suffering.

The love and companionship the Brame children, Crystal Brame's parents and her sister lost when Crystal Brame died.

Mental harm to the children, who were present at the shooting, as well as to other family members.

Expenses for Crystal Brame's family, including raising the children, and the loss of Crystal Brame's future earnings.

Luvera is expected to ask for $75 million in damages, though he will reserve the right to amend the figure. He contends reliable information about how much the family deserves isn't available for several reasons.

Among them are a cover-up, attorney-client privilege, disputed accounts, witnesses' conflicts of interests, self-serving motives, concerns about damaged careers and potential civil lawsuits and criminal charges.

Those listed in the preliminary claim as being involved in the matter include City Council members, Mayor Bill Baarsma, City Manager Corpuz, Human Resources officials Phil Knudsen and Mary Brown, city attorneys Robin Jenkinson, Elizabeth Pauli and Kerslake, former Police Chief Ray Fjetland and assistant chief Woodard.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660