Special Reports

Psychologist says he destroyed report on Brame

It's likely no one will ever know just why a psychologist rejected David Brame as a Tacoma police candidate.

During an interview Thursday in his Wenatchee office, Steven H. Sutherland, the psychologist who did Brame's pre-employment evaluation in 1981, said he's long since destroyed his report.

And a retired assistant police chief said Thursday that a change in department policy about the time of the Brame evaluation meant that only Sutherland would have had a copy of the report.

Sutherland's recommendation that the department not hire Brame when he applied for the job as a patrol officer came to light Wednesday.

Sutherland, despite seeing news photos of Brame, couldn't recall the 22-year-old evaluation.

He said it was "rare" for him to reject candidates he was asked to evaluate for Tacoma police - work he did from the late 1970s to the early '80s.

Sutherland, now in private practice in Wenatchee, said a psychological evaluation was one of the last steps in the department's weeding-out process.

Sutherland estimated he did between 30 and 70 evaluations for the department during a three- to five-year period.

Each evaluation lasted about three hours and included an interview as well as a written exam to evaluate a person's personality and emotional makeup and an oral test of general intellectual function and ability to learn.

During the interviews, Sutherland asked several basic background questions and explored possible mental health issues.

If a candidate said he was depressed, Sutherland might ask whether the person was having suicidal thoughts.

If anger appeared a problem, "I might ask them to describe a situation where (they) became angry and how (they) coped with it," Sutherland said.

At what point would Sutherland consider rejecting a candidate?

"If a person was very controlling and had very little tolerance for a position outside his own and had poor impulse control," Sutherland answered.

After the evaluation, Sutherland then wrote a three- to four-page report and a recommendation on whether to hire.

If the report on Brame still exists, Sutherland said he doesn't have it. Following guidelines of the American Psychological Association, he destroys reports that are 15 years or older.

And it's unlikely anyone else has it.

At the time of Brame's evaluation, under new department guidelines, Sutherland's recommendation, but not his reasoning, was forwarded to those making hiring decisions, said James A. Knutsen, a former assistant chief.

Brame's failure to win a hiring recommendation from Sutherland ordinarily would mean automatic rejection by training sergeants assigned to screen applicants, said former police officers familiar with the process.

But former acting Police Chief Dick Amundsen, who hired Brame; Knutsen, then a captain in the training division; and retired Lt. Paul Swortz, then a sergeant in the unit, said they could not recall what happened in Brame's case.

A checklist attached to the application's packet typically attested to the person's completion of the hiring process, said Amundsen, who hired Brame.

Besides the psychological evaluation, applicants had to pass written, oral, physical and polygraph tests, as well as a background check by detectives, Knutsen said.

Before the chief hired anyone, each applicant was evaluated by a succession of officers, beginning with a team of sergeants, then a lieutenant, a captain, and the assistant chiefs, Knutsen said.

At the time, the department was struggling to fill a scheduled upcoming police academy training class, Knutsen said.

To meet the schedule, several officers, including Brame, were hired under the condition they pass the psychological evaluation, Knutsen said.