Special Reports

32 employees, 34 allegations under scrutiny

Spurred by fallout from the David Brame scandal, state investigators have targeted 32 Tacoma city and police department employees who might have violated internal rules and policies.

Investigators initially will examine about 34 allegations of misconduct.

City Manager Jim Walton and interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell announced the figures during meetings with staff members Monday and Tuesday.

Possible violations include overtime fraud, harassment, use of public equipment for private business, improper handling of evidence and lying.

The overtime fraud allegation refers to at least two department employees who might have tampered with payroll records.

The News Tribune has learned that one police officer was accused of falsifying time cards. The complaint was the subject of an internal investigation in 1999, but it did not lead to discipline.

Overtime fraud and the other allegations are not crimes; Monday, Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced no criminal charges would result from a six-month investigation into the Brame case.

But the close of the criminal investigation cleared the path for an internal administrative investigation of the city and the Police Department, scheduled to begin within days. The inquiry could prompt disciplinary action, including firings, as well as fundamental changes in city and department policies.

City leaders agreed Monday that the Washington State Patrol will conduct the internal investigation. State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas said it would take up to two months.

The key difference between the recently concluded criminal investigation and the administrative investigation is leverage: Employees who refuse to cooperate with investigators could lose their jobs.

The threat carries no weight with former City Manager Ray Corpuz and former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard, two potential targets of the investigation. Neither works for the city.

The City Council fired Corpuz July 15, citing actions related to the Brame scandal. Corpuz appointed Brame chief despite his knowledge of a 1988 rape allegation and of troubles in Brame's marriage before Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26.

The city's retirement board approved Corpuz's benefit package in September. His annual retirement income is $101,392.

Woodard, who knew Brame had threatened his wife's life but told no one and appeared with Brame at a court proceeding in his divorce, recently was awarded tax-free disability retirement benefits of $65,540 per year.

In a report released Monday, state investigators said Woodard's actions showed "extraordinarily poor judgment," and noted that while they might not have been criminal, "there may be sufficient evidence of misconduct."

State Patrol officials are drawing up a contract with the city to conduct the investigation, said State Patrol spokeswoman Nelsa Brodie.

State Patrol commanders also drafted a letter to the city manager's office that explains the investigation. The letter is intended to be sent to city employees who might be subjects of the investigation or witnesses.

The letter states the State Patrol is using the authority of the city manager's office to compel the city employees who are interviewed to share information on what they know with State Patrol investigators, Brodie said.

The two pieces of paperwork are standard steps in launching an administrative investigation of an outside agency, Brodie said.

The State Patrol still is putting together its team of investigators. Smaller law enforcement agencies frequently ask the State Patrol to conduct internal affairs investigations of problem employees, Brodie said.

Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486