Special Reports

City's look at Brame case might get restart

At least two Tacoma City Council members will push next week to jump start the city's administrative investigation into the David Brame case, but police and prosecutors say that might be more wishful thinking than reality.

Councilman Kevin Phelps said Thursday he'll introduce a resolution Tuesday to get investigators from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs back to work on the city's internal investigation.

And he's eager for them to get started.

"Until we do a thorough look at the administrative issues, it's going to be hard to address how we can make changes at City Hall so something like this doesn't happen again," Phelps said.

Councilman Bill Evans also said he will press the council to get the city's investigation into its policies and procedures back on track.

Council members ordered the independent investigation just days after Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then killed himself April 26 in the midst of a bitter divorce.

The city's internal scrutiny, demanded by angry residents, was put on hold May 24 so it wouldn't interfere with a criminal investigation by the Washington State Patrol, the state attorney general, the U.S. attorney and the FBI.

The State Patrol handed off its findings to the attorney general's office Thursday for review and the possible filing of charges. The contents were not disclosed.

But the State Patrol won't turn its case files over to WASPC until the criminal case is closed, Chief Ronal Serpas said. And if charges are filed, that won't happen until the case is adjudicated - a process that could take many months or longer.

At least four potential complications could stall the investigation even longer, said Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge, one of the leaders of the city's WASPC team:

•The State Patrol might recommend "a rather thorough Internal Affairs investigation within the Tacoma Police Department."

That exploration might not involve criminal wrongdoing but could focus on violations of the department's own policies and procedures, Hauge said.

•The FBI might want to pursue its own criminal investigation into the Brame case.

•The State Patrol might need time for follow-up work on its investigation.

•The legal team defending the city against a wrongful death claim and potential lawsuit by Crystal Brame's family "is going to have to step up and take center stage, and we have to be careful that WASPC would not interfere with that as well," Hauge said.

"Whatever the council wants WASPC to do will be considered, and if WASPC is able to do it, I'm sure we'll be happy to assist," he added.

But "the picture is really unclear at this stage," Hauge continued. Exactly how much WASPC can accomplish without stepping on another agency's toes or somehow interfering with witnesses is up in the air.

City Manager Jim Walton said that while the city wants "a full, fair investigation" of its issues, he doesn't know whether the council "is in a position to say to WASPC, 'You're no longer on hold' - or if that's someone else's call."

In the meantime, Walton said he expects the City Council will meet in executive session with its attorneys Tuesday to discuss the revised wrongful death claim filed by Crystal Brame's family on Thursday.

Attorney Paul Luvera, representing Crystal Brame's parents, Lane and Patty Judson; her sister and brother-in-law, Julie and David Ahrens; and two children, Haley, 8, and David Jr., 5, filed a $75 million wrongful death claim against the city June 9.

The claim charged that city officials hired Brame as a rookie cop in 1981 even after he failed a psychological exam, promoted him to chief in 2001 despite a rape allegation in his past, ignored warnings of his deadly personality and failed to act on his wife's complaints of domestic violence.

The City Council turned down the claim Aug. 5 but said it was willing to enter settlement talks with the family and would rather spend money providing for the orphaned Brame children than waging a costly lawsuit battle.

The family's revised claim offers to settle for the city's insurance policy - roughly $9 million.

But there are conditions.

The family wants promises the city will:

•Provide them with documents and information about how the tragedy occurred.

•Aggressively pursue the truth in the Brame case and make it public.

•Punish anyone who made grievous errors or committed crimes.

•Fix the system that let an unstable man with an alleged rape in his past become chief of police.

•Develop procedures to protect the victims of domestic violence.

Luvera said he and the family were peeved the city took 59 days of a 60-day grace period to respond to its original claim. The new offer is good for 30 days, he said. But the council should act swiftly.

"If I hear from them on the 29th day, they will get sued," Luvera said.

Walton said it took the city 59 days to respond to the first claim because a defense team needed to be hired, attorneys had to study the issues and then advise the council on a course of action.

"We'd never had a claim like this," he added. "Nothing of this magnitude. We had a lot of catching up to do. We wanted to be careful and deliberate. We were doing the public's business. We didn't want to make a snap judgment."

Walton expects the city will act with more dispatch this time "because we're not starting from zero."

Though he couldn't say what advice the attorneys might give - or what decision the council might make - Walton pointed out the city is trying to do what the family asks.

"We're turning over stones and paper and everything else," he said. "We're trying to learn from this tragedy. Our interests would appear to line up with the interests of the family just down the line."

Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659