Special Reports

Crystal's family sues city

Crystal Brame's family made good Wednesday on a threat to sue the City of Tacoma, filing a lawsuit that accuses city officials of causing her death.

"We don't think the city has really given this issue the attention it deserves," said Crystal Brame's father, Lane Judson.

"While we are still open to discussion with them for a settlement, we filed the suit to demonstrate we're going to get to the truth with or without their help."

Mayor Bill Baarsma held a press conference to express shock and sadness at the legal action.

"I believe in my heart and soul that we made a good-faith effort to resolve this issue in a positive way for everyone," said Baarsma, who cited city efforts to attack domestic violence and to cooperate with investigations, and its offers to settle the dispute.

"The response we received came this afternoon in the form of a lawsuit," he said.

The wrongful death lawsuit stems from the April 26 shootings when Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, embroiled in a contentious divorce, fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then himself as their children, 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old David Jr., sat nearby.

The suit was filed in Pierce County Superior Court by Crystal Brame's parents, Patty and Lane Judson; her sister, Julie Ahrens; and her children.

It names only the city, but the family's attorney, Paul Luvera, said he might add individuals the family believe are responsible for Crystal Brame's death.

Lawyers for the city did not return a call to The News Tribune.

The suit, which follows an initial claim for $75 million, doesn't include a dollar figure because by law, it can't. Lawmakers changed rules in the mid-1970s to keep attorneys from using amounts in lawsuits because they tended to inflame public sentiment.

During a trial, attorneys can argue the amount they think the jury should award based on factors such as expenses, the victim's potential earning power and survivors' loss of love and companionship.

The family had reduced its initial $75 million claim to the approximately $8 million the city's insurance could pay.

Luvera, a Seattle personal injury attorney, said he was not sure he would argue for a specific amount, or what that amount would be.

"When the taxpayers decide what the amount is, that's the amount we'll receive," Luvera said, adding that he filed the lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court because he wants the local community to decide the case.

Ahrens and the Judsons say any money they receive is secondary to getting answers.

"We just want to find out how this could happen and why our daughter got murdered," Lane Judson said. "We owe that to our daughter and her children."

Luvera said city officials have moved no closer toward meaningful negotiations in the past three months since he filed a claim and subsequently warned officials the family would sue if they got no answers.

"I think that until we file this lawsuit, they really don't know we're serious," Luvera said.

"I know they're going to say they take it seriously, but for the life of me, their actions seem to indicate they need to see the summons and complaint in their hands to realize this requires some genuine action on their part."

Luvera said the lawsuit will provide a necessary deadline - a trial date - and give him the right to ask witnesses questions under oath.

"We're going to request the testimony of (assistant police chief) Catherine Woodard," Luvera said. "We're going to request the testimony of Mr. (Ray) Corpuz, (former city manager). We're going to request the testimony of every individual who has played a role."

He said the fact the city gave Corpuz a retirement package, and is considering disability for Woodard shows officials aren't holding people accountable.

Baarsma held to the position that the city is not responsible for David Brame killing his wife.

"We will aggressively defend that position in litigation," the mayor said.

Baarsma said the city had no choice with Corpuz's retirement, and that officials are following the law in considering Woodard's application for disability benefits.

He said he wasn't sure what more the city could do.

"We'll continue to work as hard as we can to find the truth," Baarsma said. "Because I believe the truth will set us free."

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660


SIDEBAR: Steps toward lawsuit (A12)

June 9: Crystal Brame's family files a $75 million claim - a legal first step for filing a lawsuit - with the City of Tacoma.

They allege city officials caused Crystal Brame's death by giving her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, power and a gun when they knew, or should have known, he was dangerous.

The family says they want:

• To know what people knew about Brame's behavior and Crystal's death and when they knew it

• Accountability

• A new city program to protect victims of domestic violence

Aug. 5: The city denies the claim.

Sept. 4: The family files an amended claim, asking for less money - whatever the city's insurance will pay - but more help from officials in finding the truth and holding people accountable.

Sept. 23: The City Council unanimously votes to settle the claim for what likely would total at least $8 million, and to help find the truth.

The family refuses the offer, saying the council had waited too long to respond and still wasn't willing to accept responsibility and leave employees at risk of a lawsuit.

Oct. 8: The family sues the city.