Special Reports

City’s early findings lay blame on Corpuz

After a 12-month investigation of the David Brame scandal, Tacoma leaders have decided they can’t decide.

They think former City Manager Ray Corpuz screwed up and broke city rules. They think he knew about domestic violence in Police Chief Brame’s marriage and did nothing about it. They think Corpuz lied to the media. They think Corpuz took no action though he knew the chief was deteriorating in the weeks before April 26, 2003, when Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself.

Leaders think Corpuz did all those things. They think it, but they won’t say it. They won’t say it because Corpuz won’t talk to them.

In five identical letters addressed to Corpuz dated Nov. 24, City Manager Jim Walton explained the city’s reasoning.

“Your inability to meaningfully participate in the review process prevents me from being fully informed on the various issues, completing my investigation and reaching reasoned final conclusions,” Walton wrote. “Therefore, I have determined that I am unable to make any final findings/conclusions in reference to these allegations against you.”

Corpuz’s attorney, James Frush, says his client shouldn’t talk, because his statements might harm the city’s ability to defend itself in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Crystal Brame’s family.

He argues that the city’s investigation of employee misconduct stemming from the scandal could cripple the city’s legal position.

“Why do you do this at all?” Frush said. “With a pending $70 million civil suit where the insurers have told you if there are statements made that prejudice the city, they’ll jerk their coverage?

“The City Council should have some serious questions for Mr. Walton as to why he ever engaged in this process with a former employee.”

Documents released Tuesday by the city reveal information about six misconduct allegations against Corpuz.

Two other misconduct allegations against one or more employees remain unresolved, according to city attorneys.

The administrative investigation, which began in December 2003, targeted 34 allegations of misconduct against 33 employees.

Nothing about the investigation – the third major inquiry related to the long-running scandal – is simple. To date, the city has released information on eight of 10 misconduct allegations that generated preliminary findings of “sustained.”

Since the rest of the allegations have been ruled “unsustained,” the city will not release any information about them.

The release of material related to Corpuz adds more confusion. Officially, the city isn’t making a final determination on his conduct.

The findings against him are preliminary, not final – but they cite evidence to show the accusations against him are true.

The evidence against Corpuz comes from interviews, testimony and media reports. Much of the material has been released in previous investigations, or published in The News Tribune and other media since the shootings.

Here is a description of each allegation, and the preliminary finding:

 • Corpuz was accused of flouting city rules and padding Brame’s salary beyond the legal maximum. The city found that Corpuz did not act improperly in that case.

 • Corpuz was accused of failing to notify former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard about the rules governing administrative leave. Corpuz placed Woodard on leave six days after the shootings. Woodard later removed files, papers and other items from her office at the Tacoma Police Department. The preliminary finding says that evidence supports the allegation.

 • Corpuz was accused of doing nothing about a complaint from Crystal Brame’s family regarding Woodard’s visit to their home on April 11, 2003. The visit resulted in a 911 call from Crystal Brame. The findings note that Woodard called Corpuz and left a message with him describing the incident – and that an anonymous group of police officers also complained to Corpuz about it.

The city’s finding notes that although Corpuz was aware of the complaint, he “did not notify the appropriate law enforcement agency to see if an investigation was warranted.”

 • Corpuz was accused of doing nothing about Brame’s failing job performance in the weeks before the shootings. The city’s findings show that Woodard told Corpuz about Brame’s failing performance on April 7 and April 12, 2003. And they say police Lt. Bob Sheehan also told Corpuz about Brame’s poor performance on April 24. The preliminary finding states that Corpuz “engaged in the conduct for which he is accused and that conduct is thought to be improper with respect to the City of Tacoma’s rules, policies or past disciplinary practices.”

 • Corpuz was accused of knowing about domestic violence in Brame’s marriage and failing to do anything about it. The city’s preliminary findings state that Mary Brown, the city’s former assistant human resources director, told Corpuz about rumors of domestic violence before Brame’s appointment as chief in December 2001.

The findings add that Corpuz was again told of domestic violence allegations against Brame the day before the shootings but chose not to investigate.

 • Corpuz was accused of lying to the media about knowing of a 1988 rape allegation against Brame. Immediately after the shooting, Corpuz said he had not been aware of the rape complaint. But he knew about it two years earlier. In early 2001, before Brame’s appointment, Brame and former assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake met with Corpuz and explained the allegation.

The city’s finding states, “The evidence revealed that you (Corpuz) were aware of rape allegations and failed to acknowledge the same at a press conference held in April 2003.”

Frush said Corpuz “completely disagrees” with the preliminary findings, and said the truth will come out in the civil suit.

“He is confident when the evidence comes out that a jury will agree that he did nothing wrong,” he said. “I have no doubt that the city’s attorneys will be standing there right next to me arguing the same thing. I have no doubt that the plaintiff’s lawyers will be quoting Mr. Walton. Who is serving the City of Tacoma?” Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486sean.robinson@thenewstribune.com

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