Special Reports

Questions: City leaders left wondering why investigators interviewed some and not others

It's not exactly a whodunit, but mystery surrounds the investigations into the David Brame shootings as surely as if a best-selling writer were telling the tale.

Some Tacoma city officials, employees and residents are curious about the mechanics of the recently concluded Washington State Patrol investigation into the Brame scandal, wondering why some people were interviewed and others weren't.

And they're wondering what state Attorney General Christine Gregoire meant May 12 when she announced that her office, the State Patrol, the FBI and the U.S. attorney had formed a partnership "for a comprehensive investigation into all aspects of the murder and suicide involving Crystal Brame and her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame."

Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then committed suicide April 26. Here's where the law and a city looking for answers seem to diverge.

Residents and city officials want to know how a man who flunked a psychological evaluation when he was hired and later had a rape allegation in his past could be promoted to chief of police.

And how Brame, under fire over domestic violence allegations from his wife, could retain his gun and badge, even as his crumbling marriage was discussed behind closed doors at City Hall.

State Patrol and FBI investigators, meanwhile, have been sleuthing for evidence of criminal wrongdoing - investigations that might or might not overlay the question of "What went wrong at City Hall?"

Rather than answer that, City Councilman Rick Talbert thinks the 4-month-old State Patrol investigation has "stopped the citizens of Tacoma from getting the answers they want."

He's surprised "and bothered," he says, that neither he nor most of his council colleagues have been interviewed about Brame's ascension to the chief job or their thoughts on his demeanor just before the shootings.

He said he's flabbergasted that former City Manager Ray Corpuz, a central figure in the Brame scandal, hasn't been interviewed. Corpuz's attorney confirmed Corpuz was not interviewed.

Mayor Bill Baarsma and council members Bill Evans, Connie Ladenburg, Sharon McGavick and Doug Miller all said they have not been interviewed. Councilman Kevin Phelps said investigators had about a 15-minute conversation with him. The other two council members could not be reached.

State Patrol officials are tight-lipped about their investigation.

"We can't talk about the facts and circumstances of the investigation," Capt. Glenn Cramer said. "Wherever the evidence leads us. That's where we will go."

State Patrol officials have said only that the scope of their investigation was assistant police chief Catherine Woodard's involvement in Brame's divorce and whether she committed any crimes.

As they looked into Woodard's conduct, detectives passed tips and other bits of information to the FBI's public corruption squad, which is reviewing the leads as part of its investigation of the city and public officials. Gregoire, recovering from surgery, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Spokesman Gary Larson said the attorney general's staff members will review the State Patrol's voluminous report and decide whether more investigation is needed and whether criminal charges should be filed.

"Until we complete the review, the investigative phase is still under way," Larson said. "For that reason, we can't discuss specifics of who was interviewed, who wasn't and why."

The investigation by the Washington Association of Sheriff's and Police Chiefs - meant to scrutinize the city's policies and procedures on hiring, promotion and other matters - is on hold so it won't interfere with criminal investigations.

Talbert and some other council members hope the State Patrol investigation brings the city answers, too, but they're not optimistic.

"We thought the nine policy-makers would have been on the list to try to find out what they know, who they talked to, what was said, etc.," Councilman Miller said.

The fact most City Council members weren't interviewed makes Phelps wonder about Gregoire's press-conference vow that the "real point of this investigation is that an innocent life was lost with the murder of Crystal Brame. We need to find out why and do all we can to make sure it never happens again."

Talbert, Phelps, Miller and others worry that isn't happening with what they believe is a limited State Patrol investigation.

But Larson says that is the ultimate goal. So does the State Patrol's Cramer.

"We understand that this has been a very traumatic time for the City of Tacoma, the people who live there, the employees and the families and that there is an uncertainty and a desire for the truth," he said. "That is what we're focused on."

Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659