Special Reports

City's Brame review on hold during criminal investigation

The City of Tacoma's fact-finding investigation into the David Brame case was put on hold Saturday so it doesn't interfere with a criminal inquiry by state and federal investigators.

City officials said the move was made to halt the release of public documents that might compromise the criminal investigation.

"It was done reluctantly, but it's necessary," Councilman Mike Lonergan said. "The whole point of this is not to get shocking revelations of gossip or whatever that might be on a daily basis; it's to get information on what corrective action we need to take."

That can't happen, especially in a criminal investigation, when information "leaks like a sieve," he added.

The administrative review of city policies, procedures and managers' actions is being done for the City Council by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

As such, documents collected and reports generated are subject to state open records laws and must be released if there are public disclosure requests for them. Until now, the police chiefs association has been releasing city documents and other information collected during its investigation.

But state law blocks the release of such information during an ongoing criminal investigation.

State Patrol and federal authorities, who are conducting a criminal investigation into the Brame case, asked the city to put its review on hold so potentially sensitive information doesn't slip out, Mayor Bill Baarsma said.

Last week, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge, who's in charge of the city's investigative review team, told the council such information could alert suspects that they're under scrutiny or cause potential witnesses to clam up.

Sally Perkins, a citizen volunteer and activist who has pushed for an open investigation, said Saturday she was dismayed both that there might be more criminal activity involved and that the city's investigation will take longer because it must take a back seat to the criminal investigation.

"I don't want to see the criminal investigation compromised," she said, "but it's also dismaying to have the other investigation slowed down because it's going to take a lot longer time before all of us find out what really happened."

There's no estimate on when the criminal investigation might be wrapped up.

South Sound residents have been clamoring for details and answers to a list of troubling questions since the police chief fatally shot his wife, Crystal Brame, and then committed suicide with his department-issued handgun on April 26.

Those questions include how Brame became a rookie cop in 1981 after he flunked a psychological exam, how he rose through the ranks to chief despite an alleged rape in his past and why city officials ignored his wife's divorce case allegations that he tried to choke her and that he threatened her with his gun.

Both Baarsma and city spokeswoman Carol Mathewson, however, said halting Tacoma's investigation would not affect the release of public documents from the city.

Requests for documents pertaining to the Brame case have come from many Puget Sound area newspapers and television stations, plus the American Civil Liberties Union, the Chicago Tribune, "ABC News Prime Time" and other media outlets.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659