Special Reports

Judge declines to reinstate officer's discrimination suit

A Pierce County judge said Friday she won't reopen a Tacoma police officer's discrimination lawsuit against the department because of new information about Police Chief David Brame.

Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz said Lt. Joe Kirby's attorney was asking her to reinstate the suit in part because he didn't know about a decision made in 1981 - the hiring of Brame after he had failed a psychological exam.

That 22-year-old decision is "too remote" to affect Kirby's lawsuit, plus, Stolz said, evidence of Brame's failed psychological test was available to her before she initially rejected the suit.

"The Court of Appeals can sort it out," the judge said.

John Messina, who is representing Kirby, had asked Stolz to reconsider her Jan. 13 decision because he said new evidence available since Brame killed his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26 could affect the suit.

In his 1999 lawsuit, Kirby accused city leaders and former police chiefs of "harassment and discrimination, discriminatory remarks, offensive language, disparate treatment, adverse employment decisions and unjustified disciplinary actions."

Stolz dismissed the action, which is under appeal. Messina said Friday he might appeal Stolz's latest decision, as well.

Messina said that, through the lawsuit, Kirby sought to show some people were treated differently than others, and evidence that the city ignored Brame's problems and promoted him could help Kirby's cause.

"We did not get an important piece of evidence," Messina argued to Stolz.

The lawyer said that even though he'd asked for the pre-employment files of people named in the lawsuit, he never received information that Brame was hired despite failing a psychological test.

Information in The News Tribune that Brame had admitted to a co-worker that he'd raped a woman in the 1980s also might have been paramount to the case, he said.

"There's strong evidence Mr. David Brame committed perjury" when he signed paperwork in the court case stating he had not raped the woman, Messina said.

Messina said he wasn't sure what relevance those pieces of information might have to Kirby's case, but wanted to find out. The only way he can interview the people under oath was through a lawsuit, he said.

"We are entitled to compare the treatment of (those) unfit but towing the line to ... Kirby, a rabble-rouser," Messina said. "Kirby throws a notebook, he gets disciplined. ... On the other hand, Brame, who was psychologically unfit to be a police officer, rises to the rank of chief."

Assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake said that to reopen the case, Messina would have had to show the new evidence would matter.

"What does Brame's prehire psychological evaluation have to do with any of Kirby's claims of discrimination?" she asked the judge.

"I think the most telling thing counsel said is, 'I don't know what relevance this new evidence would have.'"

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660