Special Reports

Brame ran PD with too little oversight

Editor's note: This editorial was originally published Sep. 21, 2003.

I thought I couldn't be shocked any more by the David Brame story. I was wrong.

Since Brame killed his wife and himself in April, I've heard all kinds of stories about sordid things Brame was supposedly involved in.

Some of them turned out to be true, as The News Tribune's Sean Robinson and Martha Modeen reported in their engrossing but depressing series last week on Brame's brief rule as Tacoma's police chief.

It was true, they confirmed, that Brame repeatedly tried to get his wife, Crystal, to join a sexual threesome with a female Tacoma police officer. That was pretty shocking, all right.

But what really turned my stomach, what made me put the paper down, close my eyes and groan, was the part about the flowers.

Every time Brame had a violent fight with Crystal, he would send her flowers the next day from an anonymous "admirer." Then he would accuse her of having an affair. He would do it time and again.

This, I thought, is sick. Really sick. Brame, who had impressed and charmed so many of us in this city, was a truly twisted soul.

I was fooled. So were most people, including some who worked every day with Brame.

Some of them knew he was ruthless and cruel as he shoved his perceived enemies out of the way and promoted loyalists to his inner circle in the police department. But who knew, beyond Crystal and her family, that Brame was so self-delusional, so psychopathic?

Flowers, tokens of love, turned to weapons.

I can't comprehend how Brame could think that the blatantly phony flower ploy would give him the upper hand, that it would absolve him of blame for choking his wife the day before.

Brame fit the dictionary definition, if not the clinical one, of a psychopath: amoral, lacking empathy, afflicted by a severe psychological disorder not readily apparent to others.

But it was obvious to the psychologist who years ago interviewed and tested the young David Brame, who wanted to follow his dad and brother into the Tacoma police force. The psychologist saw something nobody else could see, something that set off danger signals: Don't give this guy a badge and a gun.

Too many years have passed, too many players in the cast have retired from the department. I don't think we'll ever know why the psychologist's report sat like a muffled warning, buried in Brame's personnel file, undiscovered until he was dead.

The other thing that struck me in the Robinson-Modeen reporting was how loosely Chief Brame was supervised by his city manager boss, Ray Corpuz.

Brame regularly blew off Corpuz' mandatory Monday morning meeting with his department heads. To me that was a bad sign, a lack of discipline by Corpuz.

Before Brame was named chief, I had asked Corpuz if the next police chief was going to live in Tacoma. Corpuz knew what I was getting at. Most of Tacoma's cops live outside the city. Is it too much to expect that Tacoma's police chief live in the city he's hired to protect?

Absolutely, Corpuz said. It was a condition for the job. Corpuz had already decreed that department heads reside in the city.

After Brame was appointed chief, I watched him dance around the residency question several times. His wife wanted to stay in Gig Harbor, he said. He would wait and see.

Brame had no intention of moving back to Tacoma. He knew Corpuz wouldn't do anything about it. It was one more thing that told Brame how much power he had to do what he wanted with the department.

What he did with that power, as Robinson and Modeen reported, was abuse the police department's promotion system, consistently passing over the top of the promotion list to elevate "his" people. He promoted to assistant chief his buddy Bill Meeks, a man who ranked at the bottom in department respect. He cruelly forced assistant chief Ray Roberts to retire a month short of 30 years' service, costing him a bundle in pension benefits.

Did Corpuz know what Brame was doing? Did he realize how destructive Brame's tactics would ultimately be to department unity and morale? Most likely not.

Any police chief should have the latitude to make promotions, within the bounds of city and department rules. You don't want a city manager meddling with the chief's personnel choices.

But there are limits.

A suggestion: Require the chief to send the city manager a report on every promotion. At the very least, report the promoted officer's place on the promotion list. Share the list with council members. Make it a public record.

Then, at least, the council, the press and the public would have access to information about the chief's promotion habits - whether the city manager is paying attention or not.