Special Reports

Police union takes action in court

A key thread of the David Brame scandal became entangled in legal knots Tuesday. Unraveling the snarl could lengthen the state's inquiry into the case by weeks or months.

Until a labor dispute is resolved, investigators from the Washington State Patrol will not interview eight lieutenants and captains in the Tacoma Police Department. The eight are among 32 city and police employees suspected of administrative misconduct, meaning violations of police or city policies.

The delay dampens the hopes of city leaders, who want the investigation finished.

"We want very much to get this investigation concluded," said City Manager Jim Walton. "Of course, the city wants the State Patrol to be able to talk to all the people it wants to talk to."

While other city employees and rank-and-file police officers will face interviews, the lieutenants and captains will not. Attorneys for their 18-member union, Tacoma Police Management Association Local 26, filed for an injunction in Pierce County Superior Court on Monday, arguing the state's investigation violates their collective bargaining agreement.

"We want to see it go forward," said Capt. Mark Langford, union president. "We just want to see it go forward lawfully under our contract."

A Tuesday hearing on the union's motion was postponed because the city's attorney, Otto Klein, was not available. A new hearing date has not been set.

Union leaders say the investigation violates their contract in several ways:

•They argue that administrative investigations must be conducted within the department, not by outside agencies.

•They complain that discipline resulting from the investigation should be handled by the police chief, not the city manager.

•They say examples of misconduct that do not lead to suspension or dismissal ("economic sanctions") should be handled internally.

Steve Hansen, attorney for Local 26, said the union is willing to accept the State Patrol's involvement as long as investigators follow contract provisions. The State Patrol and Walton say they intend to follow contract provisions.

The union's legal action reflects bitterness over negotiations that broke down abruptly in mid-January. Walton and Local 26 leaders drafted a memorandum of understanding that would have governed the rules of the state's investigation.

Walton initially agreed to most of the memorandum's provisions, but departing State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas threatened to withdraw his investigators if the city signed the agreement.

The memorandum stipulated that Walton could remove and replace state investigators if police employees felt their contractual rights were ignored. It also required investigators to disclose all the topics they wished to discuss before interviews took place.

After hearing from Serpas, Walton declined to sign the memorandum and abruptly declared an impasse in negotiations, surprising union leaders.

In response, Local 26 and Local 6, the 300-member union representing Tacoma's rank-and-file officers, detectives and sergeants, filed complaints with the state Public Employment Relations Commission.

The State Patrol inquiry is continuing on other fronts, said trooper Marc Lamoreaux, one of the investigators in the case. Some employees have been interviewed, and other interviews are scheduled. But the action by Local 26 "will have an impact on part of the investigation," Lamoreaux said, referring additional questions to Walton.

Interviews have begun with members of Local 6. The rank-and-file union did not join the court action. Local 6 president Pat Frantz said most of the interviews should be done by Friday.

Frantz would not say how many members were being interviewed, but sources told The News Tribune the State Patrol has contacted three members of Local 6.

"We agreed to the State Patrol doing them (the interviews) in this particular case, but following the contract and the rights of the officers," Frantz said. "They are doing a professional job."

Collectively, the 11 members of locals 6 and 26 represent about one-third of the 32 employees suspected of breaking city and police rules. Investigators will not reveal the nature of those suspected violations, but the state's criminal investigation pointed to several possible examples of misconduct. They included knowledge of Brame's sexual obsessions, awareness of domestic violence, overtime fraud, and concealment or destruction of information related to the Brame case.

The violations are not crimes. State investigators reached that conclusion in November, after a six-month criminal investigation into the Brame case. But the misconduct, if proven, could lead to discipline, including suspension and firings.

Walton said he knows the names of all the employees targeted by the inquiry and the allegations they face. He would not disclose their names, but said, "there are no elected officials in the hunt."

The targeted group includes four or five employees who no longer work for the city, Walton estimated.

"The number keeps changing," he said.

Employees who left the city in the wake of the Brame scandal include former City Manager Ray Corpuz, fired last year by the City Council, and former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard, placed on administrative leave after questions emerged about her conduct. Woodard has since retired from the department.

Staff writers Stacey Mulick and Kris Sherman contributed to this report.

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486