Special Reports

Corpuz breaks long silence

In April 2003, as subordinates urged him to do something about Police Chief David Brame, then-Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz waited for someone to tell him what to do.

A long-awaited sworn deposition, conducted a week ago, reveals that employees repeatedly warned the city’s chief executive about Brame’s erratic behavior before April 26, 2003, when he fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself. The warnings included references to Brame’s death threats against his wife.

Corpuz did not act. His deposition, which breaks more than two years of self-imposed silence, shows the former city manager finding various reasons to hesitate. They included suspicion of complaints from anonymous sources, skepticism of claims in divorce filings and fear of overreaction to media reports.

“I mean, I didn’t have anything before me,” Corpuz said in his sworn statement. “I had nobody recommending any actions or steps.”

The deposition is part of a $12 million settlement agreement that settles a wrongful-death suit against the city, filed by the family of Crystal Judson Brame. Part of the agreement stipulates that the Judson family attorneys can continue to conduct depositions of key parties in the scandal.

Corpuz admitted that city employees spoke with him several times about Brame’s behavior, and asked him to intervene. He agreed he was Brame’s supervisor and the only official with the power to place Brame on administrative leave.

Corpuz said he spoke to Brame several times about his divorce, urged him to focus on his work and offered him time off. Brame refused the offer.

Corpuz acknowledged that employees with concerns about the police chief should have brought them to the city manager and admitted some did.

Three weeks before the shootings, Assistant Police Chief Catherine Woodard told Corpuz that Brame was too distracted by his divorce to focus on work. She asked Corpuz to put the chief on vacation. Corpuz didn’t.

Two weeks before the shootings, Woodard read Corpuz the report of a 911 call from Crystal Judson Brame, who said her husband had threatened to kill her.

Two days later, Woodard hand-delivered an anonymous complaint to Corpuz from police officers. It referenced the 911 call. Woodard suggested an investigation. Corpuz decided against it.

One day before the shootings, police Lt. Bob Sheehan complained to Corpuz that Brame was being babied. “If you don’t do something about this,” Sheehan told Corpuz, “then I’m going to.”

Corpuz took no action. The next day, Brame was dead, and his wife mortally wounded.

In his testimony, Corpuz, fired by the City Council more than two years ago in the aftermath of the shootings, often said he could not remember details of the events surrounding the scandal. The phrase “I don’t recall” appears 61 times in the transcript of his 21/2-hour deposition.

He could not remember the last name of Philip Arreola, the police chief he hired in 1996 and fired in 1998. He recalled little of the April 25 conversation with Sheehan. He couldn’t remember Woodard suggesting Brame be sent on vacation. He couldn’t recall telling Woodard the city wouldn’t investigate the anonymous complaint.

Several times, Corpuz said that he expected someone on his staff would recommend some sort of action regarding Brame. He said he never received one.

“I would have expected my staff, my staff to again review the matter and bring some action or something for me to consider,” he said.

As reports of Brame’s contentious divorce reached the media, Corpuz began to receive calls from reporters. Reasoning that divorce proceedings often include dubious allegations, he said he saw no cause for action.

“We don’t, you know, just react because it’s in the newspaper,” he testified. “I – If I did that, I wouldn’t have lasted 13 and a half years with the City Council. So I mean, those things are reported. And there’s always usually two sides to every issue. And you balance that by making sure you follow some due process. You don’t, I don’t think, overreact.”

Woodard’s attorney, Rob Leinbach, said the deposition provided some vindication for his client, showing she had reported her concerns about Brame to the city manager.

“She reported the death threats with the risk of retaliation, to Corpuz,” the attorney said. “She did exactly as she should have in her duties as assistant police chief in doing so, at great risk to her career.

“She actually got severely verbally reprimanded by David Brame for bringing that anonymous complaint to Ray Corpuz.”

Julie Ahrens, sister of Crystal Judson Brame, said Corpuz’s testimony made little sense.

“He’s the manager – why the hell does he need anyone to tell him what do?” she said. “Isn’t he the top dog?”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486