Special Reports

At last, truth on the Brame scandal

Lots of people in Tacoma government knew something. No one knew everything.

The first glance at an ocean of long-suppressed records related to the David Brame scandal shows a police department and a city government flooded with rumor and gossip, much of it impossible to verify.

Friday’s release of an administrative investigation conducted in 2004 shows that most of the 33 city and police department employees facing allegations of misconduct weren’t sanctioned.

The reasons vary. In some cases, there were no rules in place to support a finding of misconduct. In others, evidence was scanty. Some allegations were found to be false or based on a single piece of hearsay. Some allegations are based in fact.

Previously released documents show that three employees were sanctioned – retired payroll employee Mitch McAlvin, former Assistant Police Chief Catherine Woodard and former City Manager Ray Corpuz. The findings against Woodard and Corpuz were never finalized because they no longer were city employees and could not be disciplined. McAlvin retired before the investigation was concluded.

Some employees noticed Police Chief Brame’s erratic behavior in the days before April 26, 2003, when he fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself. A few knew the chief’s marriage was crumbling. Fewer still knew the reasons revolved around sex, and a handful had an inkling that his troubles stemmed from a failed effort to lure a subordinate into a sexual threesome.

The records released Friday after court action by The News Tribune span more than 20,000 pages, recorded on 33 computer disks. They outline scores of allegations against employees and include reams of legal analysis, much of it hinging on the subtlest nuances of city personnel policies.

“My internal challenge was working through all the legal advice I was receiving,” former City Manager Jim Walton said Friday. Walton had faced the daunting task of evaluating the results of the Washington State Patrol’s five-month investigation last year.

A few surprises emerge from the records, but not many – the landscape of the Brame scandal is vast, and much of the information already is known to the public. It shows Walton seeking answers and finding only questions.

The fragments of new information include disclosures from a voice previously unheard: Assistant Police Chief Richard McCrea, Brame’s former patrol partner in the 1980s. Before the shootings, McCrea knew of trouble in Brame’s marriage and of the chief’s sexual pursuit of Mary Herrman, a police detective.

The records show McCrea was shocked when Brame told him of the situation, and that he discouraged the chief from pursuing it further.

McCrea also knew of Brame’s crumbling marriage and allegations of domestic violence. In interviews with investigators from the State Patrol, however, McCrea said Brame portrayed himself as the victim.

McCrea also knew of a controversial incident April 11, 2003, when Brame and Assistant Police Chief Woodard visited Crystal Judson Brame to pick up the couple’s children for a weekend visit. The incident sparked a 911 call from Crystal Brame.

Learning of the incident through internal channels, an anonymous group of police officers filed a complaint with then-City Manager Corpuz, urging an investigation. Corpuz sent the word down that he would not investigate because the complaint was anonymous. The records released Friday show McCrea disagreed with Corpuz’s decision and felt an investigation was warranted.

McCrea said he did not report his concerns and other incidents to superiors because Brame told him he was in daily contact with Corpuz about his problems.

Portions of the investigation released earlier this year dovetail with McCrea’s memory of the events. Those records show that Woodard spoke to Corpuz several times about Brame’s failing performance before the shootings and urged him to act, as did police Lt. Bob Sheehan.

“He did the right thing,” Walton said of Sheehan, who did not receive any sanctions as a result of the investigation. “Here is a lieutenant, and he’s going to the city manager saying something needs to be done.”

Walton was more angered by reports in the records of a racial slur uttered by police Capt. Bill Meeks during a trip to Las Vegas several years ago. According to the records, Meeks leaned from the window of a moving car and said, “I hate Mexicans.”

Walton said he wanted to issue a finding against Meeks for that incident, but could not, because it was unclear whether Meeks was on duty at the time.

“I even tried to see if the city paid for the rental car,” he said. In the end, Walton and his legal team decided that they couldn’t prove Meeks was working at the time.

“That angered me to no end, but that can’t be what I based (a finding) on,” Walton said.

Another controversy – whether three police employees violated city policy when they attended one of Brame’s divorce hearings April 10, 2003 – was fraught with similar complications.

One employee, Woodard, was salaried, so she couldn’t be sanctioned for attending the hearing while “on the clock.” The other two – then-police public information officer Jim Mattheis and detective Barry McColeman – said they had taken time off to attend the hearing. Walton and his analysts sifted the two men’s timecards, and ultimately determined that their attendance didn’t warrant a sanction.

Other records also show rumors of illicit activity without the proof to back them up: a police officer frequenting a brothel, and a police captain recruiting a subordinate to join a swingers club. Those and other allegations were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Walton said he was struck by the level of infighting and gossiping within the police department. He suspects it prompted then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire to say the city’s police department reflected a “culture of corruption.” Now he sees it as a pity.

“What was disappointing was the amount of time and effort it would appear a goodly number of people just spent talking about each other,” Walton said. “Unbelievable, petty, makes-no-sense kind of stuff that was just going on all over the place. Many of these allegations didn’t end up as anything, except one person saying something against another person.”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486

sean.robinson@thenewstribune.com

Staff writer Jason Hagey contributed to this report.

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