Special Reports

Alleged domestic violence by police detailed

Had David Brame come to work April 28, he would have spent part of his day determining the fate of a Tacoma police officer under investigation for domestic violence.

Instead, the city's police chief fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then himself April 26. In court records, Crystal Brame had accused him of physical and mental abuse.

The police department's Internal Affairs unit never investigated her allegations because officers didn't know about them.

A preliminary survey of Internal Affairs records showed five officers were investigated for domestic violence since 1996, police spokesman Jim Mattheis said.

Department attorney Thomas Orr is reviewing the Internal Affairs documents to determine what information can be released about the five officers, and whether others have been investigated for domestic violence.

Police officials said and documents show the officer whose case Brame was to decide has been on paid administrative leave for eight months. Another officer received a 10-day suspension and a third resigned rather than be fired. No information is available on the other two officers.

The first officer's investigation has been in limbo for the last five weeks because of Brame's death. The News Tribune is not naming the officer because the city's evaluation of him isn't complete.

Then-assistant chief Don Ramsdell investigated the case and made a recommendation to Brame.

The officer, a 13-year veteran of the force, was to have a hearing with Brame, who was to decide whether to fire him, return him to active duty or find some other way to handle the case.

However, because Ramsdell made the recommendation and now is interim chief, the department's highest-ranking official, he can't rule on the case or hand it to a superior to evaluate.

Consequently, the department has given the case to the city's Human Resources Department. The department's director, Phil Knudsen, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday on how the case will be handled.

According to police reports from Fife, where the officer formerly lived, the officer had two alcohol-related brushes with the law in 2001, but was not charged with a crime.

Tacoma police Internal Affairs officers investigated the two incidents and sent the officer a "letter of counseling." Details of the letter were unavailable.

Fife police were called again Oct. 15, 2002, after the officer shoved his wife during a disagreement, documents show.

According to the reports, the officer got out his gun, which scared his wife. When police phoned and asked him to leave the couple's apartment, he talked about shooting anyone who came inside, police said.

He later calmed down and, visibly drunk, came out of the apartment on his own, officers said.

After the 2002 incident, a Fife city attorney prosecuted the officer for domestic violence, interfering with the reporting of domestic violence and obstructing an officer.

The city deferred prosecution under a state law that allows alcoholics and others to avoid being sentenced for their crimes if they agree to attend an intensive, lengthy counseling program.

"That's exactly what I'm doing," the officer said Thursday. "I screwed up, but I've done everything possible to take care of it."

The officer hasn't had a drink since that day, his wife said.

She said her husband pushed her last year only because she was blocking his access to alcohol, and she called police because she was worried for his safety.

"I picked up the keys and left, the way you're supposed to do," she said. Now, she said, "We're happier than we've ever been because there's no alcohol."

What people should understand about the case, she said, is that police officers "do take care of things properly," she said.

Through public records requests, The News Tribune has obtained a copy of the Internal Affairs unit's log, which has handwritten notations on investigations between 1996 and 2003.

The log notes two other domestic violence cases.

In March 1998, an officer received a 10-day suspension after being investigated for domestic violence and "improper use of a city vehicle."

In May 1998, an officer was investigated for a domestic violence assault. After a five-month investigation, the officer resigned rather than be terminated, according to the log.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658