Special Reports

Brame probe in jeopardy

Disagreements among Tacoma police union leaders, city officials and the Washington State Patrol threaten to derail a continuing state investigation into the David Brame scandal.

A delicate dance of negotiation among the three parties dissolved in toe-crunching this week. After the State Patrol threatened to withdraw from the investigation, City Manager Jim Walton ended negotiations with union leaders on the method and scope of the state's inquiry. In response, union leaders asked a state mediator to resolve the dispute.

At stake are the reputations, and perhaps the jobs, of at least 32 employees who might have broken city and police department rules before and after Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and killed himself April 26.

On Nov. 14, the city and state law enforcement leaders announced that the State Patrol would investigate allegations of administrative misconduct by employees of the city and the Police Department stemming from the Brame case.

All parties involved make peaceable noises, and say the investigation is continuing. State Patrol investigators are interviewing employees, union leaders say they don't want to hinder the inquiry and Walton says he wants to move ahead.

"We need to get on with it and get it over with, and I don't want to do anything that will get us off track," the city manager said.

"We are committed to doing a thorough, objective and exhaustive investigation," said State Patrol spokesman Glenn Cramer.

"We're working on a cooperative basis, but we have some issues of concern," said detective Steve Shake, secretary of International Union of Police Associations Local 6, Tacoma's 300-member police union.

"It's important to get this investigation done, but we need to have it done fairly," said Capt. Mark Langford, president of Local 26, the 18-member union that represents police lieutenants and captains.

Behind those conciliatory words, an increasingly testy debate simmers.

Union leaders fear investigators will trample employee rights outlined in collective bargaining agreements with the city, and they complain the State Patrol has been heavy-handed in the past.

The State Patrol counters that restrictions proposed by the unions will hinder its inquiry, and that the investigation must appear fair to outside observers, as well as the unions.

At the center of the storm sits Walton, who initially accepted most of the conditions proposed by union leaders, but changed his mind after departing State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas objected.

"The State Patrol was convinced that even things that I thought were a middle ground would compromise their investigation," Walton said. "I had to trust them, and I do."

The state's administrative investigation, announced Nov. 14 and agreed to by city leaders, followed a criminal investigation that concluded no crimes were committed by employees of the city and the police department in the Brame case.

However, investigators noted several possible violations by employees who might have known about Brame's actions before the shootings, including his possible sexual harassment of a female officer. Investigators also mentioned employees who might have been involved in removing documents and police department links to a Snohomish County sex club.

In December, Walton and leaders of the city's two police unions began drafting a "memorandum of understanding" regarding the administrative investigation.

The memorandum revolved around four key points:

•Disciplinary authority.

•Potential removal of investigators.

•Interviewing rules.

•Disclosure.

The memorandum gave the city manager authority to remove any state investigator who violated the collective bargaining agreement. It stated that if an employee's violations did not warrant dismissal or suspension, the Tacoma Police Department would decide on discipline.

It set rules governing interviews, and required investigators to notify employees of the subject beforehand and not stray from it.

Union leaders also objected to the state's plan to publicly disclose all results of the investigation, even if the allegations were unproven.

"They're willing to allow the State Patrol to release unsubstantiated things about people," Shake said. "That's not proper, nor has that been allowed in the past."

In a Jan. 8 letter to Walton, Serpas objected to the memorandum, saying the restrictions in it would "drive an unmistakable wedge in the ability of WSP ... to conduct a thorough and unfettered investigation."

Serpas wrote that state investigators would abide by the collective bargaining agreements, and respect the rights of employees, but added that the restrictions outlined in the memorandum were unacceptable.

"If those restrictions are not removed, I will have no other option than to discontinue my agency's involvement," he said.

The Serpas letter prompted a Jan. 12 letter from Walton to leaders of the two police unions. In both, Walton said the city would move ahead with the state investigation without a memorandum of understanding.

The city would honor the bargaining agreements, Walton said, but could not, "in the interests of the citizens of Tacoma, delay or derail the conduct of a thorough and objective independent internal affairs review."

Walton added that he would notify union members regarding the release of public records involving specific employees, but still intended to disclose them.

On Jan. 14, Walton sent a letter to the new State Patrol chief, Lowell Porter, describing the actions of recent days, and saying the city wants the state to continue its efforts.

Union leaders sent letters to Walton on Wednesday. Local 6 president Pat Frantz wrote that the union would pursue an unfair labor practices complaint against the city, while Local 26 leaders filed a request for mediation.

"I'm hoping it does not mean the investigation is off," Walton said.

Marvin Schurke, executive director of the state Public Employment Relations Commission, said responding to the complaints from the two unions could take four to five months.

Staff writer Kris Sherman contributed to this report.

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486

sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

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