Special Reports

Shootings followed reports in media

It happened in 1988 when a Seattle judge killed himself. It happened in 1996 when the nation's top Navy officer committed suicide.

And it happened again Saturday afternoon when Tacoma's police chief killed himself.

A public official under scrutiny from the media takes his own life.

Tacoma Police Chief David Brame killed himself after shooting his wife, Crystal, in a Gig Harbor parking lot. The incident occurred a day after allegations of abuse in the couple's divorce case were publicized in media reports.

"That's not newsworthy, but that's not for me to call," said Officer Pat Frantz, president of Local 6, the union that represents police officers and sergeants. "I believe that the media had a lot to do with this."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published details of the divorce case Friday, including an erroneous report that Brame's wife had obtained a temporary restraining order against him.

In fact, there were mutual restraining orders that prevented either party only from taking the children out of state, selling assets or changing insurance policies.

The story set off a flurry of media coverage.

Asked to comment on the story, Ken Bunting, executive editor of the P-I, made this statement: "This is a tragic development in lives that, from all accounts, have been troubled for quite some time. These events are not only painful for the family, but for the community and all who have the responsibility to ask the difficult questions about it. Domestic violence is never a comfortable topic."

The News Tribune published a story Saturday. An alternative local online publication - The New Takhoman - had published its own account Tuesday.

Tacoma Councilman Doug Miller said he believes the publicity surrounding the circumstances of Brame's divorce may have made the chief snap.

It would be "very difficult for any individual for something that painful to be played out in the public eye," Miller said.

Miller said members of the media ought to recognize that what they say can be detrimental. He believes Brame felt "branded for life" and reacted irrationally.

"I'm not making excuses for what he apparently did, but it would be an explanation," Miller said.

Edward Inch, chairman of the communication department at Pacific Lutheran University, said he doubted news coverage pushed Brame over the edge.

"The issue about whether it can push someone over really depends on a lot of factors," Inch said. "Odds are that the media by itself would not push someone over."

Inch said the media go too far when they report on things that have no meaning for "public or social policies" or "just to pry into someone's life."

Inch noted that divorces and the legal proceedings that follow are part of the public record.

John Hathaway, bartender and lane manager at Lincoln Lanes, reported the divorce case in The New Takhoman under the heading, "Tacoma Confidential: Off the Record, on the QT, and very confidential."

"I've got the entire court file," he said. "I will not print one thing unless I have the paperwork to back it up. That's just my ethics."

Aaron Corvin: 253-552-7058