Special Reports

City should have heeded Chief Brame's warning signals

As women's rights coordinator of Tacoma's Human Rights Department, Judie Fortier has headed the city's domestic violence task force from its inception.

During that time and in that position, she has worked with every Tacoma police chief except one: David Brame.

"He has never contacted the domestic violence office for the city," she said. "His staff has, but we have never had personal contact with him."

That, she said, was unusual, even troubling.

Perhaps we can now understand why, unlike every other chief before him, Brame did not work personally with the Domestic Violence Task Force. It came too close to whatever it was in his heart and his life that allowed him to put a gun to his wife's head and pull the trigger, then fatally shoot himself.

Even if she survives, Crystal Brame will never be herself again. Her children will be marked forever by what they experienced in that Gig Harbor parking lot Saturday.

What he did in that car negates everything else he achieved.

Civic leaders and colleagues have, since Saturday afternoon, painted Brame as a fine chief, a high achiever, a tragic figure. The woman he shot has come off as little more than a bit player in a nasty divorce.

"No one mentions Crystal," Fortier said. "It's like she's a nobody. The leaders of domestic violence programs here want her family to know that we care about her, that we care about them."

All the praise Brame got did nothing to save him and his wife. What he needed was intervention.

Fortier sees a point at which it could have begun.

"State law says that once law enforcement has knowledge that domestic violence has occurred, it is their responsibility under the law to investigate. Once you investigate, you are in a position to arrest the primary aggressor," she said.

Brame filed an informational report on domestic violence with Gig Harbor police. Fortier thinks that should have triggered an investigation.

She was stunned that, once they knew the Brames' divorce file was filled with sworn accounts of threats and violence, city officials declined to investigate, saying it was a private, not a public, matter.

Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz said: "I'm not interested in investigating any civil proceedings that he is going through at this time."

These officials knew as well as anyone else that domestic violence crosses all economic and professional boundaries. But when one of their own was involved in a relationship rotten with it, they didn't act. Corpuz made his statement the day before Brame, home from a conference in Las Vegas, shot his wife.

Here, again, Fortier sees a place where intervention could have averted the shootings.

"The most dangerous time for a woman is when the issue of domestic violence becomes public, mostly through divorce," Fortier said.

Brame's case went public in the media Friday. Thousands of people knew that the chief, who grew up in Tacoma in a family of police officers, had been accused of threatening his wife with his hands and with a gun. It was humiliating.

"I will always live with the fact that I should have e-mailed the city manager that it would be my recommendation that they have an investigation of the chief," Fortier said.

She would have reminded Corpuz that all the data on domestic violence indicated the situation was extremely dangerous. She would have recommended Brame give his gun to police in Las Vegas, and that police chaplains meet him at the airport.

Had all of that happened, he might still be alive. And his wife and children might still be whole.

Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677