Special Reports

References should have eliminated Brame, officials say

The job references David Brame supplied when he was a candidate for Tacoma's police chief in December 2001 should have been enough, on their own, to eliminate him as a finalist for the post, human resources specialists in and outside the city say.

Nearly half his references - six of 13 people - could not be reached for comment by human resources officials. Three of those who did speak made vague references to something in Brame's past that would embarrass him or the city if made public.

And several key people who logically would have been listed as references - including two former police chiefs, his current boss and two peers - were omitted.

Human resources officials contacted some of those people - including Brame's then-boss, Chief James Hairston, and two assistant chiefs - but they flatly refused to talk about Brame.

"That would have been a huge red flag," said Dawn MacNab, principal with Waldron & Co., a Seattle firm that specializes in executive job searches for government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

The troubling list of references was just one of several instances in Brame's career in which he slipped through the cracks.

In 1981, the city hired Brame as a police officer despite the negative findings of two psychologists who examined him. In the early 1990s, the department promoted him several times, even though he was investigated for an alleged date rape and detectives believed his accuser.

The search that ended in Brame's promotion to chief was one of the most comprehensive ever conducted in the City of Tacoma, with nationwide ads, four search panels, a town hall meeting and hours of interviews with the candidates. The city kept the search process in-house.

If the city had hired a professional firm to help with the search, Brame likely would not have become a finalist, McNab said, in a sentiment echoed by top city human resources officials. It's rare, MacNab said, to encounter people who refuse to speak about a job candidate.

Mary Brown, assistant director of Tacoma's human resources department, recognized the trouble with Brame's application at the time and conveyed her concerns to the city manager in a note. Brown also gave the city manager an oral briefing that outlined additional concerns, including unspecified troubles in Brame's past and rumors of marital infidelity.

Brown, who had a strained relationship with Brame as a result of thorny police contract negotiations, asked another city employee to conduct the interviews. Cynthia Winder spent one to 1 1/2 weeks trying to contact Brame's references.

Brown wrote her executive summary based on Winder's notes, including comments of three references who alluded to something in Brame's past that could embarrass him or the city.

The News Tribune requested those notes through state disclosure laws, but they could not be located.

The News Tribune also attempted to contact all 13 people on Brame's reference list; only five agreed to speak. None admitted they were among the three who alluded to something embarrassing in Brame's past.

"He duped us all," said Pat Frantz, president of police union Local 6.

Frantz spoke highly of Brame when questioned as a reference. The two knew each other as longtime police officers and active union members. Brame was a former union president.

Knowing what he knows now, Frantz said he would've pursued criminal charges against Brame, rather than support him for chief.

"If I had any inkling that he was psychologically unfit, we would've supported taking his gun away," he said. "I had no clue about his troubled home life."

Neither did Carol Sloman, a North End neighborhood activist. Sloman spoke of Brame's professionalism, and his responsiveness to neighborhood concerns.

"I didn't know of anything negative whatsoever," Sloman said.

Lyle Quasim, Pierce County chief of staff, said he was happy to be listed as a Brame reference. Quasim knew Brame from neighborhood concerns, including the Safe Streets campaign, and they worked in the same building.

Quasim told interviewers that Brame had a "history of meritorious service" with the police department. He also considered Brame, a native of the city, to be "of, by and for Tacoma."

"I didn't know of anything negative," Quasim said. "I had no idea of anything in his past that would bring embarrassment."

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said he agreed to be a reference for Brame after speaking with him on two occasions. He liked Brame's ideas for community policing and improving the two departments' work relationship.

"People who looked at David Brame were basically impressed by him," Pastor said.

But city officials never spoke to Pastor about Brame. Pastor said he doesn't understand why the city couldn't reach him and has no idea why Brame listed him as a supervisor. The two men never worked in the same department.

"It does not make sense," Pastor said.

Former Police Chief Ray Fjetland, now chief executive of the Tacoma-Pierce County YMCA, was listed as someone the city could not reach on the 2001 executive summary. Had he been reached, he may have shared some of the more damaging information.

Brown said she interviewed Fjetland after she had written her summary, so she asked him to speak directly with City Manager Ray Corpuz.

Brown remembers Fjetland recounting that Brame was unfaithful to his wife, Crystal, early in their marriage, but thought the couple had worked it out. Brown also recalls Fjetland telling her that he believed Brame was a changed man because Brame asked Fjetland to pray with him when he sought an endorsement for police chief.

Fjetland would not confirm this account to The News Tribune. He communicated with the newspaper by e-mail and did not respond to questions concerning Brame's alleged infidelity.

In the end, Fjetland said, he endorsed Brame for police chief only after his first choice, Capt. Charles Meinema, dropped off the list.

"David Brame contacted me, and asked for a recommendation," Fjetland said. "I told him I had already recommended Charlie. Dave said that if he became the only inside candidate to make the final cut, would I recommend him? I said yes and did because Charlie did not make the cut."

It's unclear what the rest of Brame's references said about him. The News Tribune met much of the same reluctance to speak about Brame city officials encountered during the job search.

•Of the six references the city was unable to reach, The News Tribune was able to reach all but one: Capt. Jim Howatson, who is deployed with the U.S. Coast Guard in the Middle East.

Three of the five The News Tribune did reach refused to speak with the newspaper: Lt. Bob Sheehan, Capt. Mark Langford and Assistant Chief William Meeks. They said they were prohibited from speaking because of the ongoing investigation of Brame's career.

Two of the five spoke to The News Tribune: Pastor and Fjetland.

•Of the seven references the city successfully interviewed, the paper reinterviewed three: Quasim, the Pierce County chief of staff; Sloman of the North End Neighborhood Council; and Frantz, president of police union Local 6, who is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of a threatening e-mail he sent after the Brame shooting.

Three of those seven references refused to speak with The News Tribune: retired assistant police chief Bill Woodard; assistant chief Catherine Woodard, also on paid administrative leave; and assistant chief Rich McCrea.

•People who might have been listed as references - former chiefs Hairston and Philip Arreola and interim Chief Ken Monner - refused to talk with the city in 2001 and continue to do so now.

Monner said he had no comment about Brame. Arreola, now working for the Department of Justice in Colorado, likewise had no comment. Hairston, retired and living in Gig Harbor, closed his door when asked why he wasn't listed as a Brame reference.

"No comment," he said. "See ya."

Jason Hagey: 253-941-9634