Special Reports

Police misconduct alleged

Criminal investigators looking into the Tacoma Police Department unearthed allegations of police misconduct and a culture of protecting prominent people.

State law enforcement leaders said changes are needed to regain public trust in the wake of Police Chief David Brame's fatal shooting of his wife and himself.

"There is a culture in management of TPD that needs to be overhauled," state Attorney General Christine Gregoire said Monday. "The rank and file did what they were supposed to do. The administration did not."

The Washington State Patrol's criminal investigation began with the potential misconduct of assistant police chief Catherine Woodard, but quickly broadened to "virtually every aspect of the Tacoma Police Department," Gregoire said.

Investigators found a culture defined by Police Department managers years ago and continued under Brame.

WSP detectives got several reports of instances where officers recognized possible criminal activity, but the allegations were not treated as crimes. Instead, the allegations were handled internally as administrative issues.

A report from Gregoire's office and the State Patrol cited four examples of questionable police practices:

•A woman's allegation that Brame raped her in 1988 was investigated by the department's Internal Affairs unit. The allegation was never forwarded to criminal detectives or county prosecutors for review.

•An accusation that a "prominent businessman" tried to bribe a Tacoma officer was addressed only as an internal investigation. It was not investigated as a crime.

•When a "prominent Tacoma figure" was suspected of patronizing a prostitute in his car, several police officers, including a captain, discussed how the reports about the contact should be written, "perhaps giving the impression that there may have been an effort to conceal the matter entirely," the report stated.

•There was an appearance of "institutional hesitancy" to pursue allegations that former City Manager Ray Corpuz and his wife were suspected of insurance fraud in 1998.

State investigators concluded that the Tacoma Police Department lacks clear policies and procedures directing when incidents should be passed to Internal Affairs or referred to investigators for criminal investigations. The investigators speculated that police leaders believe in "policing their own."

"If so," the investigators concluded in their report, "it is a bad practice, and it obviously has not worked."

The Police Department also lacks accountability measures and outlets for officers who are not satisfied with how a complaint or criminal allegation is handled.

"We had nowhere to take our concerns that improprieties were going on without it tainting our career," said Lt. Joe Kirby, who alleged employment discrimination in a lawsuit against the city.

The allegations - though not criminal - have prompted an investigation of Tacoma police officials and other city employees.

City leaders, including interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell, have agreed to let the State Patrol conduct the investigation, which should be completed within a month or two.

The internal review could address problems that rank-and-file officers have talked about for years, police officials said.

"I want to make sure it's a thorough investigation and everything comes to light that needs to come to light," said Pat Frantz, president of Local 6 of the International Union of Police Associations, the union that represents Tacoma patrol officers, detectives and sergeants. "It would surely be nice to get it cleaned up."

Ramsdell, who has led the department since early May, said he'll use the investigation as a guide to keep making progress.

"My goal is to use the information revealed from the investigation to make improvements on our processes and practices in order to continue moving the department forward and further restore public trust," Ramsdell said in a prepared statement.

He's already directed commanders to review the department's hiring practices. In addition, the department is close to implementing a policy on how to deal with officers accused of domestic violence.

"Through this entire tragedy, we have continued to serve and protect the citizens of Tacoma in a professional manner," Ramsdell said.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268