Special Reports

Brame suit drops county as defendant but keeps city

Lawyers for Pierce County and the family of Crystal Brame announced a partial settlement Wednesday in a wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from the 2003 David Brame shootings.

The settlement doesn’t end the long-running suit, scheduled for trial in February 2006, but it removes the county from the case, leaving the City of Tacoma as primary defendant.

Crystal Brame’s family and their attorneys won’t receive any money as a result of the settlement. Instead, the county has agreed to increase domestic violence prevention efforts with these measures:

 • The county will dedicate three domestic violence investigators and a sergeant to staff the Family Justice Center, a planned one-stop community service facility for victims of domestic violence and their children.

 • The county will conduct a series of domestic violence training seminars for sheriff’s deputies and law enforcement personnel from other municipalities in the county, and make training available to other entities.

 • The county will dedicate a plaque to the memory of Crystal Judson at the Family Justice Center.

Judson was Crystal Brame’s maiden name. She began to use it again after filing for a divorce from her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who fatally shot her and then himself on April 26, 2003. The shootings led to multiple investigations and a scandal that swamped City Hall.

“This is something I think we need,” said Lane Judson, Crystal’s father, referring to the center. “We don’t want anyone to experience what we have gone through.”

The initial wrongful-death suit named Tacoma as a defendant, along with Mayor Bill Baarsma, former City Manager Ray Corpuz and former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard, as well as Pierce County.

The county was named as a defendant because Crystal Brame called 911 on the evening of April 11, 2003, to complain about her husband’s threatening behavior. A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy spoke to her about the incident shortly after the call.

David Beninger, one of the attorneys representing the Judson family, said negotiation with Pierce County continued during lengthy pre-trial proceedings.

“We’ve left the door open and had our hands extended to engage in mutual negotiations for some time,” he said Wednesday. “The county has rightfully decided to remove themselves from the blame game being conducted by the city and work together to come up with a settlement that puts the residents of Pierce County first and foremost. Pierce County deserves credit for looking forward and accepting the lead in addressing domestic violence in our region.”

In a news release, Pierce County deputy prosecutor Ron Williams said, “This tragedy served to highlight the need for increased attention, training and resources to combat domestic violence, and Pierce County is committed to taking the lead in these efforts.”

The Family Justice Center is not a new proposal, though it hasn’t opened yet. The idea emerged after the shootings, and local leaders have discussed it ever since. In their most recent budgets, passed late last year, Pierce County and the City of Tacoma collectively earmarked $667,000 for the facility – the financial split is about even. Small grants from the City of Lakewood and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians add to the total.

While praising county officials and their commitment to the center, Beninger and the Judson family again criticized Tacoma’s efforts Wednesday, saying the city has dragged its feet, promising money without specific commitments.

“The county has not only got a budget, but has resources identified – three detectives and a sergeant,” Judson said.

The center has no home yet, though leaders have considered one possible site near the county-city building on Tacoma Avenue. It cannot open or hire employees without a formal agreement between the two governments. That agreement doesn’t exist yet. A City Council committee will examine a draft version during a meeting today.

The timing is coincidental – the meeting was scheduled before Wednesday’s settlement announcement.

“The project is just as dependent on the city as it is on the county,” said Dan Hamilton, deputy Pierce County prosecutor. “Without the city and our other partners, this thing will not happen.”

City Councilman Rick Talbert, who has worked on the issue, did not want to comment directly on the settlement, since the city is still a defendant in the lawsuit. But he denied that the city is holding up the agreement.

“That’s just not true,” he said.

Acting City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli is handling the agreement, Talbert said. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486