Special Reports

Investigation clears four officers in Brame scandal

At least six members of the Tacoma Police Department have been cleared or partially cleared of alleged misconduct stemming from the David Brame scandal.

The six are among a group of 32 police and city employees targeted by a Washington State Patrol administrative investigation. City Manager Jim Walton has not identified the 32 employees or the allegations against them.

On Friday, Walton said he is nearly finished with the review.

"We're close to wrapping all of this up and working as smart and as quickly as we can to try and get through and make sure everything's in order," Walton said.

Police Chief Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26, 2003, spawning multiple investigations that have lasted more than a year. A criminal investigation completed in November did not lead to charges, but uncovered multiple possible violations of city regulations and procedures.

In April of this year, the State Patrol completed a second investigation into allegations of administrative misconduct by the 32 employees. The State Patrol turned over records of the investigation to Walton, including 76 interview transcripts spanning 7,000 pages, according to statements by city leaders.

Since then, Walton and city attorneys have refused to release the records to the public, saying the investigation is ongoing. The State Patrol also refuses to release the records. A five-member team led by Walton has been evaluating the information gathered by the State Patrol and conducting follow-up interviews in some cases.

Two weeks ago, Walton said he was scheduling "hearings" with individual employees to explain his decisions and give opportunities to challenge them. Walton and city attorneys have said employees who face "unfounded" complaints will not be identified, but records of sustained complaints will be released.

Portions of the investigation concluded over the summer. The News Tribune has learned that more than three months ago, Walton sent letters to at least six police department employees, describing the status of investigations against them. Four were cleared of wrongdoing, and two were cleared of some allegations, but still face others. Two of the six employees, Lt. Joseph Kirby and Capt. Charles Meinema, received letters in mid-June that stated the allegations against them were unfounded.

Friday, Walton acknowledged that some employees targeted by the investigation no longer work for the city. That was no surprise, since an earlier criminal investigation by the State Patrol cited specific examples of possible misconduct that warranted review and named the employees involved, including former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard.

"That information is still a part of this," Walton said. "That's pretty clear."

Walton would not comment directly on the allegations against former employees, but he said it is obvious the city cannot discipline them.

"If someone is no longer in employment, they don't have to give me the time of day - that's just the way it is," he said. "If they're not an employee, there's nowhere else to go with that. I would still make a determination, but we have no nexus, no authority to do anything, except just to try to give closure on where we started."

Several key figures in the Brame scandal no longer work for the city, including Woodard, former City Manager Ray Corpuz, former City Attorney Robin Jenkinson, former Human Resources Director Phil Knudsen, former police Public Information Officer Jim Mattheis and former assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake.

When the State Patrol and the attorney general's office concluded the criminal investigation in November 2003, state prosecutors cited several incidents that warranted internal review:

•Attendance by Woodard, Mattheis and Detective Barry McColeman at Brame's divorce hearing.

•Woodard's failure to report a conversation with Crystal Brame on March 31, 2003, during which Crystal Brame complained about death threats from her husband.

•The failure of police department employees to report their knowledge of the chief's deterioration and failing performance in the weeks before the shootings.

•Possible knowledge of Brame's sexual harassment of a female officer.

Records of the State Patrol administrative investigation also represent a key facet of a wrongful-death suit against the city, filed by the family of Crystal Brame.

Attorneys for the family received a redacted copy of the records Aug. 9, but the records are not open to the public. Attorneys for the city, Woodard, Corpuz and one of Tacoma's police unions want the records sealed by a permanent protective order. Attorneys for Crystal Brame's family and The News Tribune have filed motions opposing the sealing. King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce will hear arguments on the issue at a hearing on Wednesday.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486