Special Reports

Woodard's claim of disability could net her tax-free retirement

Catherine Woodard, one of David Brame's key appointees, continues to earn more than $500 per day in her fourth month of paid administrative leave.

Tacoma's six-member Police Pension Disability Board is considering whether to grant disability leave for the Tacoma assistant police chief, who was relieved of duty May 1, five days after then-Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself.

The board's decision could pave the way for tax-free disability retirement benefits, if Woodard can prove that her disability is duty-related.

City officials would not disclose the nature of Woodard's claimed disability, but sources tell The News Tribune it is stress.

Woodard applied for disability leave shortly after then-City Manager Ray Corpuz placed her on administrative leave. In a statement issued at the time, Corpuz said his decision was based on information gathered after the shootings.

Questions about Woodard's actions revolve around her conduct during a visit she made with Brame to pick up his children April 11.

Crystal Brame alleged in a 911 call after the visit that Woodard was threatening and intimidating, an assertion Crystal's relatives support. Woodard maintains that she accompanied her boss as a neutral party to help defuse the situation.

Investigators believe Woodard knew that Crystal Brame complained of death threats from her estranged husband weeks before the shootings. The complaints appeared in notes handwritten by Woodard and found in Brame's apartment by investigators the day of the shootings.

Woodard's conduct is one element of a larger criminal investigation by the Washington State Patrol and the FBI.

Woodard, 48, is eligible to retire at 50. But if she is deemed disabled after six months, she qualifies for tax-free disability retirement benefits and immediate retirement, subject to board and state approval.

Tacoma's disability board has asked a doctor to examine Woodard to learn more about her case, said Elizabeth Massie, the board's secretary.

As a 25-year veteran of the Tacoma Police Department, Woodard receives a more generous benefits package than police and firefighters who joined the force after Oct. 1, 1977, receive.

If board members approve Woodard's request and determine that she is physically or mentally disabled and "not able to perform her duties with average efficiency," Woodard could be granted disability leave and earn her full salary and benefits for up to six months.

Since being placed on administrative leave, she's received $36,300 gross pay. Woodard earns $63.02 per hour or $131,081 a year, the top salary range for an assistant police chief in Tacoma.

The board could reject her claim if it determines her disability resulted from improper conduct. The board also could decide that she is no longer disabled and order her to return to duty.

In practice, the board seldom rejects disability leave, said Phil Knudsen, Human Resources director.

If the board grants Woodard disability retirement after six months of disability leave, she'd earn 50 percent of her annual salary - $65,540 - tax free.

At a 27 percent tax bracket, that income would calculate to $17,696 in federal taxes, according to 2002 federal tax rates.

Board members include Mayor Bill Baarsma, City Treasurer Morgan Jacobson, City Clerk Doris Sorum and retired police officers Lee Giles, Lee Revelle and David Lane.

Woodard's application is not scheduled for a vote at the board's next meeting, Sept. 2. The board will consider her request after it receives more information from the board-appointed physician, Massie said.

Martha Modeen: 253-597-8646


Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486