Special Reports

Chance encounter, then gunfire

Saturday morning, David Brame got his son and daughter up, loaded them into his car and drove to a kids' karate lesson in Gig Harbor.

The Tacoma police chief's wife, Crystal, intended to go to the same karate school the next day for a one-day, eight-hour self-defense class.

Before she could, the couple crossed paths Saturday afternoon at the Harbor Plaza shopping center, where David Brame shot his wife in the head and then killed himself.

Monday, sheriff's investigators and Crystal Brame's attorney talked about the chance encounter that left her unconscious and on life-support at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Her children and others in her family remained at Crystal Brame's bedside.

"It's still an hour-by-hour, day-by-day situation," her divorce attorney, Joseph Lombino, said during an afternoon press conference.

Briefing the press, Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer gave this account of the shootings, which clarified the initial sketchy reports:

David Brame and the children, 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old David Jr., were going to the drug store when they spotted Crystal Brame's car in the shopping center parking lot about 3:10 p.m.

Brame told the children to stay in his car while he spoke with their mother.

He sat in the driver's seat of his wife's car with the door open while she stood at the driver's window and leaned in while they talked.

David Brame pulled out his department-issued .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic and shot Crystal Brame once, then committed suicide.

The children heard the shots and, realizing what had happened, ran to the car.

The young Brames are receiving counseling about what happened and have talked with investigators about what their father did.

"Because of his actions, two children have been left without a father and with a mother in critical condition," Lombino said.

Meanwhile, police spokesman Jim Mattheis had strong words about Brame's actions.

"We don't condone what Dave did," Mattheis said. "He did everything opposite of what we believe in as police officers. He was our boss, he was our friend, but he committed a crime."

Brame's framed photograph has been removed from the wall outside his old office at the County-City Building.

His family members were handling funeral arrangements. It is not expected to be the formal type of service held when an officer is killed in the line of duty.

David Brame, 44, and Crystal Brame, 35, had been involved in a contentious divorce. She filed for divorce Feb. 24 and moved out of the family's Gig Harbor home with the children.

Crystal Brame had alleged her husband recently verbally and physically abused her, choked her and threatened her with his gun.

He denied the allegations in a legal filing and to his closest friends in the department.

"Many of us knew of the allegations, but the chief continued to refute them," acting Police Chief Catherine Woodard said during a press conference.

She and about a dozen others in the command staff and the lower ranks had been counseling David Brame through the divorce. They knew he also had been seeing a counselor recently.

They'd never seen Brame violent, Mattheis said.

"We looked for those signs, especially when the allegations became public," Woodard added. "There was just none."

Mattheis had been with Brame most of last week in Las Vegas at a labor management training seminar with eight other Tacoma police officials.

"He was doing the best one could be when you're going through a divorce," said officer Patrick Frantz, who was with Brame in Las Vegas. "I couldn't believe it when I first heard" of the shootings.

Brame flew home to Gig Harbor by himself Friday morning and went alone to pick up his children that night.

Between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Saturday, Brame called Mattheis as the chief rushed to get his children ready for the karate class. Mattheis declined to comment on Brame's mental state during their last conversation.

Shortly before 9 a.m., David Brame and the children arrived at Gig Harbor Karate Academy. David Brame Jr. was there for his twice-weekly half-hour lesson in a beginning class called "Lil' Dragons."

Crystal Brame had signed up her son two or three months earlier because he seemed interested in karate and she thought it would be good for him, said owner David Jensen.

More often than not, she took her son to the lesson at the busy karate center, but it was not unusual for David Brame to take his son, who always came in with a "good attitude," Jensen said.

"He bounced in and he bounced out," Jensen said of the boy.

David Brame would stay and watch his son. He was "quiet and cordial," Jensen said.

It was the same last Saturday. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, Jensen said. David Brame stayed for the 30-minute lesson, loaded up his kids and then left.

But three weeks earlier, it was a very different scene.

On that day, a frightened Crystal Brame met with head instructor Bill Kortenbach in private for a 25-minute conversation.

She had never before taken classes at the academy, but was keenly interested in a self-defense class called "Full Force Adrenal Response."

"Crystal came to me ... in absolute terror of this situation where she was having a conflict with her husband," Kortenbach recalled Monday. "She told me she was afraid for her life."

She wanted to sign up for the all-day class in which students face off against a fully padded foe who just keeps coming until he or she is knocked down.

Crystal Brame paid $99 on the spot, Kortenbach said.

But she also wanted to know how to protect herself until she could take the class.

Kortenbach asked whether she could "disappear" with her kids. He said her look of desperation told him that wasn't an option.

Knowing her husband was the chief of police, Kortenbach then advised caution.

"Say whatever you need to pacify him," Kortenbach said.

But shortly before her scheduled class, tragedy struck.

Investigators said Brame was wearing his department-issued gun in a holster Saturday afternoon. Many officers carry their weapons while off-duty, though detectives don't know whether Brame routinely did, Troyer said.

"That'll be part of the investigation," he said.

Detectives will be searching the Brames' Gig Harbor home and his Tacoma apartment. They'll also review 911 calls made in the moments after the shootings and will interview witnesses.

Monday, Woodard adjusted responsibilities of the three assistant chiefs to ensure the department's four bureaus are adequately overseen.

She has also been addressing patrol officers at the beginnings of their shifts and plans to continue until all have heard from her about what happened and about the future.

"For many people it hasn't sunk in yet," Woodard said. "None of us saw him (after the shooting). There was no goodbye."

Staff writer Stefano Esposito contributed to this report.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268