Special Reports

Brame appeared under stress but in control, Corpuz says

Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz said Sunday he spoke with Police Chief David Brame several times about his mounting personal pressures as the chief's marriage spun toward divorce, but never asked whether he was fit for duty.

"Dave appeared under some level of stress, but he was in control of his emotions," Corpuz said. "We did not discuss his fitness for duty.

"I focused on making sure he was getting time off and the help he needed to deal with the issue and (to) ensure it didn't affect the chief's job performance."

Brame, whom Corpuz appointed chief of police 16 months ago, shot his estranged wife, Crystal, in the head and then committed suicide Saturday in a Gig Harbor parking lot.

Though Brame was investigated by the department in 1989 after a complaint was lodged against him, Corpuz said he didn't read Brame's complete personnel file before he appointed the then-43-year-old Tacoma native.

Instead, Corpuz discussed the incident with former Police Chief Ray Fjetland "and was told an investigation concluded the allegation was unfounded."

City officials did some background investigation on outside candidates for the chief's position when Brame was elevated to the post after 20 years as a rising star with the department. No such checks were done on internal applicants, Corpuz said.

Instead, search-team officials relied on department personnel files already in hand.

Corpuz couldn't say Sunday what background checks on external candidates consisted of or whether they included psychological evaluations.

Brame's last psychological evaluation was done when he joined the department in 1981. Such checks routinely are done on new officers.

But even a fresh psychological evaluation of Brame might not have helped, said Elaine Nevins, who coordinates domestic violence programs for the YWCA and has bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology.

"There's no psychological profile for a perpetrator of domestic violence," she said.

Still, Brame's fatal actions caused some to wonder Sunday whether psychological testing shouldn't be mandatory for police chief candidates.

"I have thought about a psychological test that every officer should take every step that he or she works up through the ranks," Mayor Bill Baarsma said.

"This is something that the city should consider," he added.

Councilman Doug Miller thinks psychological testing for officers moving up the ranks, or possibly periodic psych testing for all cops, might be a good idea.

"You've got people in high-stress jobs who carry weapons and deal with racial issues," he said. "It would be good to know we have a way of identifying a problem before it becomes a big one."

Police Union Local 6 President Pat Frantz said he thinks psychological evaluations and lie detector tests should be mandatory before any officer's advancement.

Although Corpuz will decide how to search for and appoint a new chief, Baarsma said he expects the City Council "to be fully engaged in the process" and hopes to get things moving this week.

Corpuz said it was too early to talk about a replacement for Brame; he would rather focus on helping acting Chief Catherine Woodard get the department stabilized.

And he promised the city will review its process of evaluating candidates for command positions in the police department.

"I'm sure everyone who knew Dave wishes they could have predicted the future and done something to prevent this tragedy from occurring," Corpuz said. "We're all searching our minds to figure out why this happened, and we'll be doing so for some time to come."

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659