Special Reports

Errors, chaos led to Brame hiring

Allegations of political favoritism, questionable psychological evaluation procedures and failure to fully investigate David Brame's past emerged Friday from newly released documents.

They also detailed a chaotic hiring process in which no one can recall seeing Brame's complete hiring file.

The information contains few new revelations but sheds more light on the Tacoma police chief's hiring and career. It also reveals the responses of city leaders to Brame's fatal shooting of his wife, Crystal, and himself.

After the April 26 shootings, investigators from the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs interviewed several current and former members of the city's legal and police departments and learned the following details:

•Police department leaders ignored negative psychological evaluations of police officer candidates.

•A confusing hiring process was made more so by a merry-go-round of entering and departing police chiefs in the early 1980s.

•Brame told city leaders of his fears that a 1988 date-rape allegation would derail his plans to become police chief, and worries that he and his wife might divorce, undermining his reputation.

•The process of selecting the police chief in 2001 gave heavy weight to Brame's status as an internal candidate, though candidates from outside the department were seen as more qualified.

•City leaders examined notes of conversations between assistant chief Catherine Woodard and Crystal Brame, which included references by Crystal to death threats from her husband.

Psychological evaluations

Investigators spoke with psychologists Steven Sutherland and James Shaw, who examined Brame in 1981 before he was hired as a patrol officer.

Both recommended the department not hire Brame, and neither had any explanation for why his advice was apparently ignored.

Sutherland examined Brame around Sept. 30, 1981. He couldn't remember anything about Brame, though his report indicated he recommended Brame not be hired.

He was not informed that Brame had been hired anyway.

Shaw said he eventually quit working with the police department in 1998 because of differences with then-Chief Philip Arreola, and because the department did not "adhere strongly" to his recommendations.

Though other agencies seldom disregarded his findings, Tacoma sometimes offered second or third examinations to candidates who failed the first.

"If they really wanted someone, they would say, 'We want this person and we're going to find somebody who will give us a positive evaluation so we can hire him,'" Shaw told investigators.

"It's the only agency that I know of that does that," he added. "Most of the time they have faith in the psychologist that they hire, who knows the department better than anyone else."

Shaw started contracting with Tacoma in 1981, taking Sutherland's place. He interviewed Brame on Nov. 17, 1981, a few weeks after Sutherland. He said he wasn't aware Sutherland had examined Brame.

Shaw recommended against hiring Brame, who he noted had failed "some behavioral test from Pierce County." The interview offers no details of that test.

The other departments he had been contracting with "most likely" would not have hired Brame under the same circumstances, Shaw said.


Investigators interviewed at least five retired police employees to determine how Brame was hired 22 years ago.

In addition to passing a psychological evaluation, applicants in 1981 also needed to pass a medical exam, a physical test, a background check, a polygraph and an oral interview. Failing any should have disqualified an applicant.

Investigators offered no answer for Brame's hiring within the hundreds of pages of testimony. But they posed two theories:

Did Brame slip through a training division in chaos? Or did someone, perhaps a family member, bend rules to get him hired?

Some of those interviewed noted that Brame was hired at a time when a major lawsuit distracted the department and prompted numerous changes in the command staff, including the chief.

"I think this thing dropped through the crack," said retired chief Richard Amundsen, who signed Brame's hiring letter.

Two of those interviewed said Brame's father, Gene Brame Sr., still worked at the department when the younger Brame was seeking a job. (In fact, Brame's father had retired Aug. 7, 1979.) David Brame's older brother, Gene Jr., a patrol officer, periodically asked department members about his brother's progress.

None of the employees interviewed said they felt pressured to act favorably toward David Brame. They said they saw only portions of Brame's application materials, not his complete file.

"I'm just one cog in the wheel," said retired Sgt. James Richburg, who conducted a background check on Brame.


Interviews with city lawyers show some in the legal department felt the nationwide search that led to Brame's 2001 selection as chief was a ruse.

"He was the golden boy," assistant city attorney Cathy Parker said. "Everybody talked about him as the golden boy. He was favored by people in City Hall."

Chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli told investigators that she thought all the external candidates were more qualified to be chief than Brame.

Parker added that city leaders should have investigated the 1988 date-rape allegation more thoroughly before appointing him to "a position of power over many people."

At the time, the allegation led to an Internal Affairs investigation, and a finding that the accusation could not be proved.

"People relied on the word of other people all the way down the line," Parker said. "That may have been a big mistake."

Before his appointment, Brame told a police department attorney, Heidi Wachter, about the rape allegation. Wachter told investigators that Brame said, "This could sidetrack my aspiration to be chief."

On a different topic, City Attorney Robin Jenkinson told investigators that she read notes gathered by investigators from Brame's apartment. The notes, Jenkinson said, reflected a conversation between Woodard and Crystal Brame, who "expressed a concern that David Brame would kill her."

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486


Martha Modeen: 253-597-8646


Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542