Special Reports

City lawyer sought job reporting to Brame

The assistant Tacoma city attorney who sealed court papers containing a rape allegation against David Brame spent at least five months recently angling for a plum job in Brame's office.

A string of 23 e-mails shows assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake frequently asked Brame and her boss, City Attorney Robin Jenkinson, about the job and the status of her progress in getting it.

Brame wanted to add a third legal adviser to the police department, the e-mails show. And by the time it became clear Kerslake was to be that lawyer, Brame was describing the job as "directly responsible/accountable to me."

Kerslake's name appears on an April 8 personnel requisition for an appointive position described as assistant city attorney III, with an hourly rate of $33.94 to $41.26, to begin June 1.

Five days later, Kerslake told Jenkinson that the arrangement was held up because Brame, in the midst of a messy divorce, was "not focused on his work."

Two weeks later, on April 26, Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then committed suicide, using his department-issued handgun.

Kerslake could not be reached Thursday for comment on the e-mail documents, which The News Tribune obtained under state open records laws.

As an assistant city attorney, Kerslake has defended Tacoma police in several lawsuits.

She won a major victory in federal court last week when jurors cleared seven officers of allegations they wronged three men. The jury found against only one officer, awarding $35,000 of $500,000 sought in the civil case.

Two months ago - on March 19 - Kerslake sent Brame a proposal justifying new jobs in the police department for herself and for a legal assistant.

"I just made this up," she told the chief, "so feel free to change anything that you don't like."

Her proposal created an attorney's slot for the department's new Professional Responsibility Bureau. The department already has one full-time and one part-time attorney.

Three weeks later, she sent Brame a personnel requisition request, which the city's legal department had filled out for the chief.

The document notes the employee would report to Jenkinson, describes the position and concludes: "Ms. Kerslake has been providing part-time assistance to the department for several years; the need for legal services now exceeds the time allocation. ... Please see the attached proposal."

Kerslake's attached memo to Brame reads:

"Chief - My department did as much as they could with the re-quisition. Just a few items need to be filled in by you. ... THANKS."

Kerslake sent the e-mail with a high priority at 10:54 a.m. April 8. In less than an hour, at 11:20 a.m., Brame moved it on to Tacoma Police Department finance manager Mitch McCalvin, asking him to review it and keep it confidential.

"I am working on a separate justification (for the request)." Brame wrote to McCalvin, "... Although the position will be assigned with the Professional Responsibility Bureau, the attorney will be directly responsible/accountable to me."

In a March 23 e-mail to Brame, Kerslake told him her bosses (Jenkinson and chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli) suggested the timing was good for the requisition, "even though the funding isn't firm."

"I guess what they do is just put some vague reference to the funding source and then say if more detail is wanted they will provide it on request," she adds. "Pretty tricky huh?"

On April 13, Kerslake wrote to Jenkinson, saying that because she was about to begin a trial, "I will have less time to hound the police department about following through for the requisition for my position."

In the same e-mail, written about six weeks after the Brame's divorce proceedings began, Kerslake points out that assistant police chief Catherine Woodard is having trouble keeping the paperwork moving, because she "is busy holding Brame's hand."

On April 25, the day before Brame shot his wife and himself, Kerslake tells Jenkinson that Woodard met with City Manager Ray Corpuz and "I guess he at some point will be talking to you about the plan."

Kerslake's knowledge of the rape allegation against Brame - and what she did with that information - are key elements in investigations of Brame's rise from a rookie police candidate who flunked a psychological evaluation in 1981 to chief of police 20 years later at age 43.

The homicide-suicide occurred the day after news of the couple's contentious divorce became public, including Crystal Brame's allegations that her husband choked her and threatened her with his weapon.

The 1988 rape allegation against Brame first surfaced during depositions for a 1999 discrimination lawsuit against Tacoma.

Kerslake, who was defending the city against the suit, successfully asked a judge to seal the records in February 2001. She contended descriptions of the incident were irrelevant to the lawsuit and meant only to "harass, annoy and embarrass" Brame.

Jenkinson said Thursday that Kerslake sealed the files without her knowledge and never brought the rape allegation to her attention.

The city attorney said that happened even though she expects her assistants to inform her of matters "that are potentially of importance to the city, City Council or city manager."

The rape allegation was dropped after an Internal Affairs investigation showed it couldn't be proved. One Tacoma police officer has said Brame confessed to him, and two others say they believe the woman's story.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659