Special Reports

Testimony from 1999 lawsuit still reverberates in city politics

Tacoma police Lt. Joe Kirby sued the City of Tacoma and lost - but remnants of his lawsuit mark a trail that leads to the David Brame investigation.

Many allegations in the suit have been publicized before but have gained resonance since April 26, when Brame fatally wounded his wife, Crystal, then shot himself.

Kirby's employment discrimination lawsuit was dismissed Jan. 13 and remains under appeal. The court files were closed to the public until last Friday, when a Pierce County judge ordered them opened, exposing a side of city politics that Tacoma leaders fought to conceal.

Depositions of police officers, former chiefs Philip Arreola and James Hairston, Brame and City Manager Ray Corpuz revolve around several key subjects:

•A 1988 rape allegation against Brame and the internal investigation that followed.

•Multiple accounts of a 1998 investigation of Corpuz's wife, Lynda for insurance fraud.

•A reference to a "no-arrest" zone for Corpuz's son, Dito, forbidding police officers from arresting him at his parents' house or his aunt's house.

•Observations about the climate in the police department.

In his original complaint, filed Dec. 20, 1999, Kirby accused city leaders and former police chiefs of "harassment and discrimination, discriminatory remarks, offensive language, disparate treatment, adverse employment decisions and unjustified disciplinary actions."

References to the Corpuz insurance fraud investigation appear in the depositions of Capt. Charles Meinema, retired assistant chief William R. Woodard, the late Capt. Mike Darland (then deputy chief), Arreola, Hairston and Corpuz.

The News Tribune fully reported on the fraud case in 1998, and published five stories, beginning with the investigation into Arreola's handling of the case, and ending with a report that Lynda Corpuz admitted filing $10,000 worth of false insurance claims. She was placed on probation and, as a first-time offender, referred to a Pierce County diversion program.

The charges stemmed from a 1997 burglary at the Corpuz family's home. Lynda Corpuz filed nearly $30,000 worth of claims with Safeco Insurance Co.

According to Woodard's deposition, insurance investigators spoke to detectives after the burglary, and relayed their concerns about possible false claims and their difficulty in reaching Lynda Corpuz.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge investigated the case. Hauge is now leading the Brame investigation for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

At the time, Hauge also found that Chief Arreola did not wrongfully interfere in the insurance probe.

Depositions in the Kirby case show Arreola ordered investigators to leave another crime scene and go the Corpuz house. He also later notified Ray Corpuz of the fraud investigation.

Some media reports have suggested Brame, then chief of detectives, played a primary role in helping Ray Corpuz get preferential treatment from police by alerting him to the investigation.

Depositions show Brame's involvement in the case was limited. According to sworn testimony from officers, word of the investigation passed up through the chain of command. Detectives informed a supervisor, who informed a lieutenant, who told Brame, who told Woodard.

In his deposition, Woodard said another lieutenant later spoke to insurance investigators, who asked if the police department would investigate the fraud case if it became a criminal matter.

Woodard said he met with police staffers to discuss whether the department should investigate the claim, then consulted Arreola, who said it would be referred to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department if it became a criminal case.

Arreola, in another deposition, admitted he told Ray Corpuz about the investigation.

The rape allegation against Brame first appears during the Meinema deposition, taken Jan. 18, 2001 - almost a year before Brame was appointed chief.

Meinema did not use the word "rape," but said Brame "was investigated many years ago for an allegation that, had it been substantiated, would have been a criminal matter."

Three weeks later, assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake, representing the city, filed a motion for a protective order that would prevent Kirby's attorneys from seeking further information about the allegation against Brame. Such questions were intended solely to "annoy and embarrass" Brame, she wrote.

U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess denied the motion.

Kirby's attorneys then deposed retired police Capt. Dave Olsen on March 8, 2001.

Olsen investigated the rape complaint in 1988 while he was with Internal Affairs. He recounted details of the investigation, and said he believed "that Dave Brame raped this woman," but investigators lacked sufficient evidence to sustain the complaint.

Because of that, Olsen said he did not believe Brame should have been investigated for lack of judgment or some other type of violation. He later told The News Tribune he did not disagree with the decision by Chief Ray Fjetland not to sustain the complaint.

Meinema's deposition includes references to the "no-arrest zone" surrounding Corpuz's son, who had "a fairly long track record of involvement in the criminal justice system," Meinema said.

He also described a notice on a patrol briefing sheet that said "Dito Corpuz was not to be arrested at his aunt's house or at his parents' house, basically creating a no-arrest zone within a block or two or three of the houses, because the aunt's house was fairly close to the parents."

Ray Corpuz has denied asking police to avoid arresting his son and stated he told his son he would report him to officers if he knew his location.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486