Special Reports

His cowardly act nullifies all the good in Brame's life

If you all don't mind, I think I'll sit out the bizarre praise-a-thon for David Brame.

No matter what nice things are said about our late police chief, they must always be preceded with this nullifying qualifier: "Except that he tried his best to kill his wife in front of their young children ..."

Doesn't really work. One cowardly act weighs so heavily on the "bad deeds" side of the ledger sheet that no list of "good deeds" can ever balance it out. No amount of moral relativism can leave us with any other assessment of the life of David Brame.

So I'll leave it to others to proclaim how wonderful he was, how he never gave any indication of being a murderer, how he really bucked up a troubled police department. Others can talk about his storied career, his love of his hometown, his rapid ascent through the ranks.

I'll stick with the more-recent facts: He tried to kill his wife, he tried to leave his children orphans, he ruined countless other lives, he may have been an abuser, he sullied his badge and his family name.

People can talk about the man they knew not matching the man he became, but Brame now appears to personify the Irish phrase: Street angel; house devil. Despite his public persona, the only thing keeping David Brame from being a murderer is the skill of the trauma teams at St. Joseph and Harborview hospitals. There are suggestions that his crime wasn't a shocking aberration but a pattern of abuse.

David Brame is no hero, not even a flawed hero. He may have done a fine job as chief, but he has now brought shame on his profession, his department and his city. (His crime was the third story on the news in New York City, behind only Iraq and SARS.)

He has undone whatever good he did for the Tacoma Police Department and has left the men and women under his command to clean up his dreadful mess.

Here's another exercise I'll take a pass on: the understandable but still troubling attempt to blame nearly everyone and everything for this crime except David Brame. His wife Crystal didn't pull the trigger on the department-issued .45-caliber Glock, a gun taxpayers gave him. Her divorce filing didn't make him do it. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer didn't kill her because it first published news of marital strife, allegations of spousal abuse and possible criminal assault. The rest of "the media" didn't force Brame to renounce his oath to preserve and protect. Neither did City Manager Ray Corpuz nor the members of the Tacoma City Council.

Only David Brame is to blame for the acts of David Brame. That he was under stress is clear. But most police professionals deal with stress without trying to kill their spouses. Those are the real heroes.

That said, we are left with troubling questions. Did we miss danger signs of domestic violence? Were there times when people could have intervened? Did we err when we wrote off the allegations in the divorce papers as he-said/she-said? Did Brame get different treatment from police agencies?

The answer to all these questions is yes. We need to respond to make sure the next Crystal Brame stays safe. When we give people guns and arrest powers, we must hold them to different standards, higher standards. It's part of the deal.

But allowing David Brame to shift blame posthumously would be a mistake. In his homicidal delusions, he may well have hoped that his acts would cause the community he would leave behind to blame itself, not him. The media made me do it, he might have thought. I'm the victim. Crystal drove me to this. How could they all be so unfair?

David Brame is not the victim of this crime. He's just about the only one around here who isn't.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657