Special Reports

'We need to know why this happened'

Crystal Brame's parents and sister tearfully told the public Monday why they intend to sue the City of Tacoma.

"If people had done their jobs responsibly, our daughter would be alive today," Lane Judson told reporters as he stood in front of photos of his smiling daughter, both by herself and holding her son and daughter.

Crystal Brame's family filed a $75 million claim against the city Monday, taking the first step toward a lawsuit they'll pursue because they say the city caused Crystal Brame's death.

Police chief David Brame fatally shot his wife and then killed himself April 26 in Gig Harbor while their children, 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old David Jr., were nearby.

Crystal Brame's parents and sister want to know why the city gave David Brame power and a gun when he failed a pre-employment psychological exam and later was accused of raping a woman.

"We need to know why this happened, how could it ever happen, and is there a way to make sure it never happens again," Lane Judson told The News Tribune in an interview before the press conference.

The claim, filed on behalf of Crystal Brame's children, her parents and her sister, Julie Ahrens, accuses the city of neglect for hiring David Brame, promoting him to police chief and then not watching him.

It says officials ignored signs he was destructive, kept secret the rape allegation and didn't investigate accusations Brame abused his wife and sexually harassed a female officer.

City employees violated Crystal Brame's constitutional right to life and liberty and didn't protect her as they should have, the claim says.

Civil defense attorneys have said it would be hard to prove the city was responsible for everything David Brame did, especially when he killed his wife while off duty.

City officials said little Monday. Spokeswoman Carol Mathewson said they are reviewing the claim.

"The city is going to be looking at hiring outside legal counsel to advise us," Mathewson said. "With pending litigation, we'll wait until we get the outside counsel to comment further, no doubt."

Mayor Bill Baarsma said the City Council is overwhelmed with fallout from David Brame's actions, and will discuss the claim today.

"I feel like I've just been socked in the gut here," he said.

Crystal Brame's family has hired Seattle personal injury attorney Paul Luvera, who told reporters he wants to break through what he called a cover-up and lies.

"In my view, David Brame should have never been given a badge and a gun, let alone made the chief of police," Luvera said. "As a result of the system failure, we have a murdered woman and two children who've been made orphans."

The only way the family will get the truth is to put people under oath as part of a lawsuit, he said.

He said he is especially interested in assistant chief Catherine Woodard, who the Judsons say intimidated them April 11 when she came to their house with David Brame to pick up his kids.

The lawyer said he also wants to talk to City Manager Ray Corpuz. He has said he didn't know about the rape allegation before appointing Brame chief.

In addition to Woodard and Corpuz, the claim says the following people were involved in the matter: City Council members, Baarsma, Human Resources officials Phil Knudsen and Mary Brown, city attorneys Robin Jenkinson, Elizabeth Pauli and Shelley Kerslake and former Police Chief Ray Fjetland.

Patty Judson, Crystal's mother, said she was "sickened by some of those who are involved in hiding the truth."

Her husband told reporters that as he held Crystal Brame's hand while she lay dying, he vowed to fight for changes that would save others from that fate.

Lane Judson wants a federal law that would require any government or agency receiving law enforcement funds to have an effective domestic violence program and watch police officers for signs of abuse.

"I told Crystal I would fight this, and push this federal legislation," he said.

Luvera questioned whether David Brame would have evolved into the same person had he not been given a position of power.

"That's a question for the jury to decide," Luvera said.

After filing the claim, the Judsons must wait 60 days before they can sue.

Lane and Patty Judson said they'll use any money they win to raise Crystal's children and to promote programs to prevent domestic violence, especially among police.

Luvera said the $75 million figure signals how remarkably bad he believes the city's actions were.

"We're after justice," Luvera said, "and justice is only represented in dollars in this country."

Staff writer Kris Sherman contributed to this report.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660


Taxpayers are liable

Taxpayers ultimately may bear the bulk of any settlement or jury award in a $75 million wrongful death claim filed against Tacoma by the family of Crystal Brame. Back page