Special Reports

A police chief's incomprehensible, bewildering crime

"Shock" hardly begins to express our reaction to David Brame's shooting of his wife, Crystal, and his own suicide Saturday afternoon.

Almost anyone who knew the Tacoma police chief professionally - and that includes the editorial board of The News Tribune - would have, before Saturday, vouched for his character, his devotion to police work and his concern for the city he served.

Brame exuded competence. He was good at dealing with people. He held the respect of his fellow officers. It didn't hurt that he was a native Tacoman, a product of the East Side, a second-generation police officer.

When he was sworn in as chief a year ago January, Crystal pinned the new badge on his uniform while their two young children watched. No one then could have imagined Saturday's horrifying sequel, when Brame shot his wife and then himself in the parking lot of a Gig Harbor strip mall - with their children at the scene.

Police work is notoriously stressful and notoriously hard on marriages. This was Brame's second marriage, and it was apparently turning ugly even as he assumed the pressures of his new job.

Their divorce proceedings - sensationalized Friday on the front page of a Seattle newspaper - brought to public view her allegations that he had threatened to kill her. He in turn claimed that Crystal had a "ferocious" temper and had repeatedly physically attacked him. Whatever had been happening in their marriage, his anger erupted uncontrollably Saturday. The waste of life, the trauma to their children, the grief of their loved ones, are almost too terrible to contemplate.

Nearly any death is loosely described as "tragic" nowadays, but this was a tragedy in the classical sense: a fine police officer, even an extraordinary one, unleashing deadly force against his wife while in the grip of a literally fatal personal flaw.

To all appearances - at least before Saturday - Brame was no psychopath or beer-swilling wife-beater. He seemed a peace officer genuinely devoted to criminal justice, to public safety, to the protection of the innocent, to strict control of the lethal force society entrusts to the police.

These values defined his career. He had distinguished himself in his commitment to them. Yet the final act of his life was an explosion of homicidal rage that repudiated everything he had sworn to uphold. It was a crime fraught with horrifying irony.

This shooting leaves many questions to be answered. Perhaps Brame's personal problems - obviously deep and serious - should have been detected when he was being evaluated for the chief's position. Perhaps more help should be extended to police officers struggling with marital stresses of this magnitude.

And some news organizations would do well to look long and hard at the way they handled this story.

But all that can wait a few days. At the moment, we can only grieve a crime that has devastated two families and left an entire city stunned and bewildered.

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