Special Reports

Key figures dragged heels, records show

Newly released records of a state investigation into the David Brame scandal reveal a six-month history of resistance and refusal by current and former Tacoma employees facing accusations of misconduct.

The documents – about 1,100 pages of a 7,000-page record – were released by the Washington State Patrol on Friday, in response to public disclosure requests from The News Tribune. Names of accused employees and the allegations against them are redacted in the report – but previously disclosed information, known facts and research make many of their identities clear.

The new documents reveal that investigators conducted 74 interviews and targeted a number of key figures in the scandal, including former police public information officer Jim Mattheis, former assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake, former City Attorney Robin Jenkinson, former Police Chief Ray Fjetland, police administrative assistant Jeannette Blackwell, assistant police chief Richard McCrea; police Lt. Bob Sheehan and police Capt. William Meeks, among others.

The documents show that former City Manager Ray Corpuz, a key figure in the scandal, faced allegations of misconduct but declined multiple requests for an interview with investigators between January and June of this year. Former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard also faced misconduct allegations and declined an interview.

Members of two Tacoma police unions resisted the investigation for four months, arguing that the procedures violated collective bargaining agreements. Union members initially refused to be interviewed by investigators until those procedures were settled.

Records reveal repeated disagreements between the State Patrol and the unions, numerous conferences with attorneys, and City Manager Jim Walton brokering negotiations between the two sides until the end of March – almost four months after the investigation was supposed to begin.

The administrative investigation, announced last December after an earlier criminal investigation, targeted 32 employees who faced multiple allegations of misconduct. Despite Friday’s partial release of records, the inquiry is not finished. On Oct. 12, Walton announced that 12 current and former employees face “sustained” findings of misconduct.

Only one of those findings is complete, by the city’s definition. It involves a former employee who gained access to Police Chief Brame’s confidential medical records shortly after the shootings of April 26, 2003, when Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself.

The other 11 employees still have opportunities for “name-clearing” hearings with Walton, where they may challenge his findings. Walton has said he expects the remaining findings to be finished by mid-November.

Many of the allegations against employees revolve around well-chronicled incidents from the scandal: knowledge among Tacoma employees of domestic violence in the Brame marriage; attendance by three police department colleagues at one of Brame’s divorce hearings; knowledge of Brame’s sexual harassment of a subordinate; and Woodard’s actions after hearing Crystal Brame complain about death threats from her husband.

At the conclusion of a criminal investigation last year, state investigators recommended an administrative investigation of those and other incidents, spawning the current inquiry.

Current employees targeted by the probe faced potential discipline if they did not agree to interviews. Former employees, such as Corpuz, Woodard and Kerslake, enjoyed greater freedom; their participation was voluntary and findings against them could not lead to discipline.

The new documents show that investigators first approached Corpuz in late January, seeking an interview. They offered to speak to Corpuz either the week of Feb. 16 or Feb. 23, but set a deadline of Feb. 27. Corpuz’s attorney, James Frush, replied that no dates in February would work – he suggested the first week of March.

March came and went, and the interview did not occur. Negotiations with Corpuz continued into the summer, even after the State Patrol turned the bulk of its investigation over to the city April 28.

Records show that as summer approached, Frush asked investigators to provide a list of subjects Corpuz would be asked about. Investigators provided it. On June 11, Frush added another request – the list of current and former employees Corpuz would be asked about, and a list of the allegations against them.

Investigators replied immediately, denying Frush’s request. The interview with Corpuz never took place.

The State Patrol noted that it expects to release additional records from the investigation by Nov. 30.