Special Reports

FBI, U.S. attorney enter Brame case to determine if federal crimes involved

FBI agents and the U.S. Attorney's Office joined the David Brame investigation Monday because of the possibility that federal criminal laws were violated.

Their entry into a joint state-federal investigation, at the invitation of Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire, came less than a week after dozens of Tacoma citizens demanded FBI involvement because they don't trust a city-ordered probe.

"We certainly believe that potential federal criminal violations have occurred here, and we're going to investigate them," said John McKay, U.S. attorney for Western Washington.

McKay declined to elaborate on what federal laws may have been violated in the case involving the late Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then committed suicide April 26.

But he said federal authorities have seen preliminary evidence from "state and local investigators" that makes them believe federal crimes may have been committed. He would not say whether that evidence points to criminal activity by someone other than Brame.

Questions have surfaced about how Brame got hired as a rookie police officer in 1981 despite a psychologist's recommendation against his employment; how he was promoted to chief of police in 2001 despite a 1988 rape allegation that some police officers believed; and how Crystal Brame's allegations of domestic violence were handled by police and city managers.

"The real question is, why was Crystal Brame murdered? Why wasn't something done about it and what can we do to ensure that it doesn't happen again in the future," Gregoire said during a press conference Monday.

"We will conduct a rigorous, independent and thorough criminal investigation into all aspects of this troubling case," Gregoire added, including "a full, fair investigation of the city and city officials."

The involvement of state and federal agencies expands a narrower State Patrol investigation that started two weeks ago. The State Patrol has been looking into allegations that assistant police chief Catherine Woodard misrepresented herself during a visit she and Brame made to the home of Crystal Brame's parents.

Crystal Brame had said Woodard threatened and intimidated her in the past. Woodard, who is now on paid administrative leave, denied those allegations.

The State Patrol will lead the investigation, but the FBI will take over "if we come to a point where there is evidence of a violation of federal law," said Charlie Mandigo, FBI special agent in charge.

Mayor Bill Baarsma, informed the FBI was being brought in only an hour before the announcement, said the city welcomes the stepped-up investigation, which will run parallel to an administrative review already ordered by the City Council.

The Tacoma chapter of the National Organization for Women sent letters last week to Gregoire and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft seeking a deeper investigation.

"This type of investigation is exactly what we wanted," said Judie Fortier, NOW chapter president. "We're going to follow it closely."

She speculated the federal involvement could be due to a possible violation of the federal Violence Against Women Act.

University of Washington criminal law professor John Junker speculated that the most likely candidate for a federal crime would be a crime committed by an official - using official authority - that violated someone's constitutional rights.

This could have happened if Brame - by himself or in conspiracy with others - deprived his wife or the alleged rape victim of their rights, he said.

Staff writer Karen Hucks contributed to this report.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659