Special Reports

City lawyer knew of alleged rape

An assistant Tacoma city attorney knew of a 1988 rape allegation against David Brame 11 months before Brame was named the city's police chief.

Shelley Kerslake, acting on behalf of the city, also sought to prevent the allegation from being disclosed - first by blocking questions related to it, then by sealing court records in a lawsuit that mentioned it.

Brame's slaying of his wife and his suicide have prompted an outside investigation into what city leaders knew about Brame's past before he was appointed chief.

It is unclear whether Kerslake or City Attorney Robin Jenkinson informed City Manager Ray Corpuz about the rape allegation before Corpuz appointed Brame police chief in 2001.

Jenkinson was not available for comment Wednesday.

Kerslake refused to say whether she'd told Jenkinson or Corpuz about the allegation.

Chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli echoed Kerslake's response, citing attorney-client privilege.

"Under the circumstances we are considering that confidential and privileged communication," she said.

Last week, the city's legal leaders, again asserting attorney-client privilege, refused to answer questions about how they responded to an April 25 recommendation from the city's top human resources officials that Brame's gun and badge be taken away.

Pauli said the City Attorney's Office is consulting the Washington State Bar Association for an opinion on whether its communication with Corpuz qualifies as privileged.

Corpuz declined to say whether he was told about the rape allegation before promoting Brame, whether he heard the word "rape" used in connection with Brame or whether he felt properly informed by the City Attorney's Office.

"I prefer not to make any comments at this time," Corpuz said. "I'm in a situation where I don't want to violate the City Council's clear direction for an impartial investigation."

During a news conference last week, Corpuz described his efforts to verify an unspecified rumor about Brame before he appointed him. Corpuz said he spoke to former Police Chief Ray Fjetland about it.

Corpuz said Fjetland described "an incident with a woman that had been reviewed."

Corpuz said, "The word 'rape' was never used."

But the word was used and directly linked to Brame at least five times during the course of a civil lawsuit Tacoma police officer Joseph Kirby filed against the city.

In the original 1999 complaint, Kirby sought unspecified damages for various personal injuries, and named Corpuz and Brame as defendants, as well as other officers in the police department.

The case, originally filed in Pierce County Superior Court, briefly shifted to U.S. District Court in June 2000 because the list of Kirby's complaints included claims of racial discrimination - a possible violation of federal law.

Kerslake represented the city in the suit.

As the litigation progressed, Kirby's attorneys deposed police Capt. Charles Meinema and David Olsen, a retired police officer who worked for the department's Internal Affairs division in 1988 and 1989.

During a deposition taken Jan. 18, 2001, Meinema was asked about an unspecified allegation against Brame and a subsequent internal investigation.

Meinema said Brame was investigated for a potentially criminal allegation.

After that deposition, Kerslake sought a protective order in federal court, seeking to block further questions about the allegation.

In a Feb. 23, 2001, memorandum to the court, Kerslake described the 1988 allegation:

"Patrol Police Officer David Brame went on a date with a woman and had consensual sex. Fifteen months after that date, she complained to Tacoma police Internal Affairs that she had been 'date-raped.'"

Kerslake noted that after an internal investigation of the complaint, Chief Fjetland ruled it "not sustained," meaning it could not be proved.

She added that efforts to discover information about the rape allegation were intended to "harass, annoy and embarrass defendant David Brame," and were irrelevant to Kirby's case against the city.

Kerslake's motion also included a signed affidavit from Brame, who described the allegation and subsequent investigation:

"In 1988, while I was a police patrol officer, a woman that I had dated one time made a complaint to Tacoma Police Department Internal Affairs that I had raped her. This allegation was made 15 months after the alleged incident."

Brame also said that because the allegation had surfaced in the lawsuit, he had received harassing messages on his pager that read, "RAPE."

U.S. District Court Judge Franklin Burgess denied the city's motion, and allowed further depositions to be taken.

On March 8, 2001, Olsen was deposed, and was asked about the complaint against Brame.

Olsen, who investigated the case with another officer, described the allegation as a rape complaint by a Pierce County woman.

He gave the woman's name, and described the investigation that followed her complaint.

Kerslake asked Olsen his opinion of the case.

He replied that he thought Brame had raped the woman, but noted investigators were not asked to give their opinions. He added his views carried no weight in Chief Fjetland's decision not to sustain the complaint.

Kerslake, Olsen and John Messina, Kirby's attorney, confirmed the details of the deposition.

Six days after Olsen's deposition, Burgess ordered the suit remanded to Pierce County Superior Court. There, Kerslake successfully moved to have records of the case sealed.

City attorneys have told the Tacoma City Council they will not oppose efforts to unseal records of the Kirby suit, noting the media have sought their release.

Council members said Wednesday they want to know more about how the city sought to seal court records to protect Brame's "reputation and good name" in the face of the rape allegation.

"Absolutely, we need to see what's in there," said Councilwoman Sharon McGavick. "We need to open this stuff up."

Councilman Kevin Phelps said he, too, wants answers in the Brame case. But he's also concerned about harming the reputation of innocent people. Some sealed court papers, he fears, contain baseless allegations.

"We've had enough people ruined in this fiasco," Phelps said.

"Not one thing we're going to disclose is going to bring back Crystal Brame or Dave Brame. You've got to look at other lives impacted here."

Kirby's original complaint named Corpuz, Brame, former Chief Philip Arreola, former Chief James Hairston, retired assistant chief Ray Roberts, retired assistant chief William Woodard, and assistant chief Catherine Woodard, who is on administrative leave.

Staff writer Martha Modeen contributed to this report.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486


Brame coverage online

• Complete coverage of the deaths of David and Crystal Brame and the political storm surrounding them is available on our Web site: www.tribnet.com/news/projects/david_brame