Special Reports

Newly found records clear up longstanding Brame mystery

Newly discovered public records related to Tacoma Police Chief David Brame emerged Thursday, providing partial answers to questions that have lingered since he fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and killed himself April 26, 2003.

The records, found in a file drawer overlooked for more than a year, include:

•Background material from Brame's first pre-employment psychological evaluation in 1981. That assessment, conducted by psychologist Steven Sutherland, rejects Brame as a job candidate, and suggests that his "personality variables will contribute to potential danger for him, his fellow officers and the community at large."

•A previously unseen psychological evaluation, conducted shortly after Sutherland's, that states Brame "would make a very fine young policeman."

•A 1989 psychological assessment of Brame, conducted after he was accused of rape, that pronounced him fit for duty.

The favorable, "missing" evaluation, by psychologist John O. Larsgaard, solves a longstanding mystery. Brame failed his first evaluation and barely passed his last one before he was hired as a patrol officer. There should have been another evaluation to create a majority recommendation, according to the hiring practices of the time. Larsgaard's assessment of Brame, conducted Oct. 26, 1981, fills that gap.

Larsgaard described Brame as "a very attractive young man who appears to be in excellent health." In response to personality-test questions, Brame appeared to give "socially approved answers regarding self-control and moral values," Larsgaard said.

"There was a distinct tendency to minimize or smooth over faults, but not to the extent that I would disregard the test entirely."

Larsgaard added that Brame "was able to 'psych out' what the test was trying to find out." He saw that as a sign of intelligence, and said he was "especially impressed" with Brame.

Those findings contrasted sharply with Sutherland's earlier evaluation, which described Brame as "depressed," "dependent and immature" and "usually unhappy and threatened due to his dependency and insecurity."

Larsgaard was aware of the difference between his assessment and Sutherland's. He wrote that he could not explain it. Thursday, The News Tribune tried to reach him, without success.

Jim Knutsen, a retired assistant police chief who was a captain at the time of Brame's hiring, described Larsgaard as "a real nice guy," a minister and former professor at Pacific Lutheran University who went into private practice. He occasionally performed psychological evaluations for police department job candidates, Knutsen said - typically after they had failed their initial evaluation.

"Almost everybody that failed a psychological went to Larsgaard," Knutsen said. "He was known for second psychologicals. He virtually never failed anybody."

After Larsgaard's evaluation, Brame received a third psychological evaluation from Dr. James Shaw on Nov. 17, 1981. Results of that evaluation, publicly disclosed last year, described Brame as a "marginal" applicant. Shaw wrote that he "would not recommend Mr. Brame be hired as a police officer," but added that he found no official basis to reject him.

Brame was hired six days later.

The 1989 assessment, also written by Shaw, is a one-page letter dated Jan. 20, 1989. It followed an internal investigation of the rape accusation. The complaint against Brame was ruled not sustained, meaning it could not be proved.

Shaw wrote that his report was limited to assessing Brame's fitness for duty. He said the rape investigation "was quite stressful to Officer Brame," and concluded he was "fully fit for duty as a Tacoma police officer."

The appearance of the new records surprised Paul Luvera, the attorney who is representing Crystal Brame's family in a wrongful-death suit against the City of Tacoma.

"I believe this makes the city's position worse," he said. "They have two psychological exams that indicate that this man is not a suitable police officer. In fact, one of them says he's a danger. Nevertheless they hire him, apparently on the basis that the minority report is right."

Jill Haavig Stone, one of four attorneys from the Tacoma law firm of Burgess Fitzer, which is defending the city against the lawsuit, called the new documents good news. They show that normal procedures were followed in Brame's hiring, she said, adding that Larsgaard's report provides reasoning to back up his favorable recommendation.

"Is that good for the City of Tacoma? Yes," she said.

Staff writers Kris Sherman and Jason Hagey contributed to this report.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486