The Murder of Crystal Brame

I have often said before that I do not do a vast majority of cases that involve spouse on spouse because sadly they are almost routine it seems in today's world.  However, from time to time I do blog about those sorts of cases because there is generally other issues involved that give the story a different spin.  This is one of them and this case has several different or unique spins to it.  This is not just a case of a couple going through a divorce where domestic violence not only was alleged but ended the lives of two people.  This is also a case about the "Blue Code" of silence and how that code, along with political corruption nearly brought down an entire town.  We have heard of case after case where money and prestige prevents any sort of justice being dealt.  We saw it in the O.J. Simpson case; we saw it in the JonBonet Ramsey case.  On a much smaller scale we could have seen it here if it were not for the final actions of David Brame.

On the afternoon of April 26, 2003 in a strip mall parking lot just outside Tacoma Washington two shots rang out.  The next thing that witnesses heard was the screaming of two small children.  It would later be determined that the 5 and 8 year olds were with their father in his vehicle when they had pulled into the lot and spotted their mother's vehicle.  Initially it was thought that this was a prearranged meeting but it was later believed that the encounter was likely accidental.  Their father, David Brame Sr. got out of his vehicle and went to the passenger side of his estranged wive's vehicle and got in.  An argument ensued and apparently Crystal, his wife, had begun to exit her vehicle when David shot her in the head and she fell to the parking lot ground.  He then immediately put the gun to his own head and fired.  David would die within a few hours of the shooting while Crystal struggled to live for the next week until her death. It was pretty obvious what happened even without the children having to tell what they had witnessed but that was the only thing easy or non-disputed in this case.  

What followed would be a quest to find the truth as to why what happened had been allowed to happen and as more and more information emerged, more and more people were impacted by David's actions.  

David Brame had become a Tacoma police officer in 1981.  He had followed in a family tradition.  His father, brother and a cousin were all police officers, some (maybe all), right there in Tacoma.  Over the next two decades he rose in the ranks of the force and in January of 2002 he was promoted once again, only this time to chief of police.  A lot had happened between 1981 and 2002 with David and not just professionally but also personally.  In 1981 when he was hired into the department David was apparently married to another woman.  I attempted to find out more about his first marriage but found nothing other than the fact that they divorced around 1987.  In fact, since I could not find out any other information about this marriage really the only reason I mention it now is to give a timeline of things that will matter later.  I tried to determine if there was any abuse alleged by his first wife or the reason behind their divorce but I found none.  David and Crystal would marry in August of 1991.  Crystal would file for divorce in February of 2003 but it would not be the first time she had considered it.  In her divorce filing, in the county they lived which was not where David worked, Crystal had alleged domestic violence had occurred in both physical and emotional manners.  Crystal claimed that David was jealous and controlling. She alleged that he would check the odometer of her car after trips to ensure she had gone where she said she had, that he forced her to weigh herself and use the bathroom in front o him and that he had to approve all purchases. According to Crystal's lawyer although she had made claims that she feared for her life she declined getting a restraining order and had wanted the allegations made in the filing to be kept quiet.  Some say it was because she feared retaliation from David, although he obviously would have have been made aware of them, but other say it was so it was not made public and ruin his career.  David, and later his family after the murder, would dispute all the claims made by Crystal.  David would counter claim saying that Crystal was the unstable party and reportedly had pictures that had been taken in 1996 where he alleged he received bruises and scratches from her during a fight.  

Just a few days before the murder a local newspaper had received the filing and saw the allegations.  City manager, Ray Corpuz, would be contacted by the paper but declined to comment.  The day before the murder, the newspaper published an article on the allegations.  Some human resource officials in the police department read the article and contacted Corpuz suggesting that Brame be put on administrative leave and turn in his badge and gun until things were settled.  City attorney disagreed with them and so did Corpuz.  Corpuz would later be quoted as saying that the divorce filing was a civil matter between David and Crystal and despite the fact that he was the only person above Brame in the position to do anything he refused to intervene.  He would later be criticized for this decision and many others he made regarding David Brame.

Almost immediately after the murder Corpuz promoted Brame's assistant chief, Catherine Woodard as "acting" chief until a permanent replacement could be found. This only last for five days when Corpuz then put her on administrative leave when it was discovered that just two weeks before the murder Woodard had accompanied Brame when he went to pick the children up for a visit. It was said that Crystal had insisted that they only meet to when there were witnesses and had David come to get the children at her parents' home.  Crystal would call 911 on that day saying that David had brought Catherine with him and that she had been threatened and intimidated.  Apparently it got back to the department and officers were advised that they were no longer to accompany David on any personal matter such as this. It seems unreasonable that Corpuz did not already know about this incident prior to the murder, or especially when he put Catherine in the role of acting chief but more than likely he either did not think it was a big deal or he just quickly made a decision.  At any rate, when the incident became public, among other things he was all but forced to place her on administrative leave until the investigation into the incident was settled. Also placed on leave was the head of the police union.  It was discovered that it was through him that the divorce filing had become public and was responsible for the article that was published the day before the murder.  

It did not take long before people began talking about what they knew. Of course both families talked and their stories differed from each other.  Crystal's family talked of the abuse they say she suffered at the hands of her husband while his family, unable to dispute what ultimately happened, would claim that it was Crystal who was the abusive one and that she had pushed him to the point in which he "snapped."  When it came to colleagues in the police department and elsewhere it seems there were a few more supporters in the beginning than there would ultimately later be.  Everyone's first emotion was shock that it had happened but as more and more things became knowledge some of the supporters waned.  In my opinion some of that occurred due to the fact that while they knew things they likely continued to hide their knowledge until they saw that this was not only not going to go away but it was going to take people down with them and it became about saving their own butts. 

One of the first things to emerge was information from David's file beginning with his hiring in 1981.  It was quickly discovered that he had failed two psychological tests and it had been stated that it was recommended that he not become a police officer. My research is a bit sketchy here as it indicates in several areas that Ray Corpuz was responsible for hiring him, however, that does not seem possible and that these references are more likely about Corpuz promoting him in 2002 since Corpuz was not city manager in 1981.  Most believe that despite the psychologist recommendation that David Brame not be made a police officer, his family influence was the ultimate reason he was in fact hired.  However, even though Corpuz was not responsible for his actual hiring he was responsible for his promotion and the initial report was troubling.  Then came the issue that in 1988 David had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman on a date.  Whether that was listed in his file or not is questionable considering no charges were filed and the official "report" was that it was a "he said/she said" situation and nothing had been done because it could not be proven who was telling the truth.  The more likely scenario was that the "blue code" had come in and covered it up at the time but of course that could not be proven so many years later.  But again, there was the question of what did Corpuz know when he promoted Brame to chief.  Corpuz would claim he knew neither of these things until after the murder but people began coming out of the woodwork saying Corpuz had been made aware before promoting Brame.

The third big issue that was starting to mar Corpuz's reputation in this situation had to do with the multitude of officers that were now coming forward and saying that prior to the murder Brame had become unhinged and unstable. Some, including Woodard (although I take her statements with a grain of salt), claimed they had even gone to Corpuz with their concerns.  There was at least some proof to some of that.  Officer's said that once Crystal had filed for the divorce David had become consumed with it and some say that resorted to much expressed anger.  Many in the department expressed that this had so consumed him that he was unable to fulfill his duties as chief and that others were in fact doing his job for him.  Corpuz did admit that he saw a change in David Brame and that he had suggested he take vacation time to sort through his issues but that Brame had declined.  Corpuz would claim beyond that he had no idea that Brame was not performing at his job.  However, he had to reluctantly admit that he had received an anonymous letter regarding this exact issue.  His excuse was that he did not follow up on anonymous things.  

The city of Tacoma almost immediately began their own investigations, which is where most of this information came out and by May 6th Corpuz knew he was in trouble because he knew there was more.  In 1997, long before Brame was made chief, but was still a high ranking detective, Corpuz's wife, Lynda had made a false insurance claim against a supposed burglary.  Many in the community believed that it was Ray, and not his wife who had done this or at the very least encouraged it and that she took the fall later when caught.  Lynda had been forced to repay $30,000 but beyond that it seems there was little or nothing done.  People began digging deeper just to see how much Brame knew or was involved in this and if this could have been the reason that Corpuz would later promote Brame as chief. So on the 6th of May Corpuz announced that he was putting himself on administrative leave until the investigation was over, at which time he would retire after 30 years of service with the city (13 of those as City Manager).  Soon however the city learned that their own investigations would likely have to wait as the FBI had decided to come in and do their own investigation into what looked like a corrupted system and city.  Soon the city counsel decided that it was not feasible to keep Corpuz employed since their investigation process was on hold and he had already stated he did not intend on returning.  I should not that while on "administrative leave" Corpuz was still receiving over $600 a day for his pay. Corpuz was hoping to negotiate a deal with the counsel to get 6 months of leave to get his 30 years in so that it would boost his retirement pay.

By 2005 Ray Corpuz had moved on to be city manager in Seaside California but it seems scandal's continued to follow him.  While there he was accused of interfering with a sexual harassment case involving a police officer.  Within a few years he was gone from there. In early 2012 he had moved on to be city manager in Salinas California despite much opposition.  It appears that he is still there currently in 2016.  

Catherine Woodard had her own issues also although the end result of them are less clear.  A few weeks after she herself was put on administrative leave she asked to be dismissed on disability due to the stress she had endured due to her job.  Whether or not that was granted I am unable to say.  She would later testify (as would Corpuz) in a civil suit brought against her, the city and others by Crystal's family that she had gone to Corpuz on more than one occasion to discuss his state of mind and how he was coming "unhinged."  Corpuz either denies or claimed he did not recall this happening and to be honest I am unsure who to believe in this.  Woodard had also claimed that David Brame had dispute all the claims Crystal made in her divorce filing and that she had also come to believe they were false allegations.  However, in the next breath she admits to hearing Brame make death threats about Crystal as well as other things including a claim by a female officer who would later file her own harassment suit.  Many officers, including Woodard, would claim to have repeatedly heard David Brame say he was going to lure Crystal into a "threesome" with a female officer.  Woodard would claim that until the time of the murder she assumed it would have been consensual.  But again, I am unsure what you can believe from some of those who suddenly began telling things when their own careers and reputations were on the line.  

Neither Crystal or David's family was taking what occurred lying down and both families went about defending their child.  They both began relating what they "knew" about the couple's relationship.  I put this in quotes because as the saying goes, few people really know what happens behind closed doors and much of what was relayed, especially through David's family, came directly from the couple.  As another saying goes, there are three sides to a relationship, his, hers and the truth.  It seems that the only thing the two families agreed upon was that the breakdown of the marriage had been going on for years.  According to Crystal's family as early as 1998 Crystal had sought the advice of a divorce attorney.  She had supposedly set up a meeting in private but were told that David had been made aware and showed up at the same time.  They also claimed that he had brought three police officers with him who sat out in a vehicle presumably for intimidating purposes.  According to her family Crystal dropped the idea of divorce at that time because of fear of losing her children. Crystal's family would not only go on to sue the city and others for their role in not preventing David Brame from committing this act but advocate for stricter laws against domestic violence.  In particular they fought to have better protection for those who claimed abuse from police officers in domestic situations.  In essence they argued that no one took Crystal's allegations seriously because her husband was the chief of police.  In the end they settled for several million dollars with the city, a domestic violence center was erected and dedicated in Crystals name, and new protection laws were passed. Crystal's parents had taken her children to live with them immediately and later they were raised by Crystal's sister and her husband.

David's family had, and continues to have, a different take on the situation. They claim that it was Crystal who was abusive to David over the years.  Not only do they claim David took pictures of the abuse from a 1996 argument but disputed all that was in Crystal's divorce filing.  One particular claim was that he had pointed his service weapon at her and threatened to kill her.  At one point David's sister wrote a letter to a newspaper claiming that Crystal was over dramatic and made things up and that the gun pointing incident was nothing more than David teaching her gun safety and that no threats were made.  Of course, just as Crystal's family got their information from her, his family got their information from him and they apparently believed it.  His family maintains that Crystal was "unstable" and that while they can hardly argue that David was the ultimate aggressor in the end they continue to blame her for pushing him to that act.  

As far as the children they were not only interviewed about the shooting but were almost immediately put into therapy due to the fact that not only were they now orphans, they had literally seen their father shoot their mother.  Much much more came out in their therapy however.  According to their therapist they had witnessed David Brame's abuse prior to the shooting towards his wife. They both claim to have heard David tell Crystal "I will see you dead before I'll give you any of my money." His daughter would claim that like he had with her mother, David had began making her use the bathroom in his presence.  Both children would also claim that David's mother was abusive towards them and that they feared her.  With that claim they also stated that David knew of this and would continually attempt to make them change their story.  While Crystal's family maintained custody of the children the Brame family was fighting to see them (and would claim wanted custody of them also).  Initially the therapist had considered allowing contact with David's father, who the children said the cared for despite him not "protecting" them from his wife, and David's siblings but not with his mother.  However it seems the therapist soon changed his mind on that when the Brame family started writing to the local newspapers and granting interviews in which they were not only blaming Crystal for the breakdown of the marriage but made comments such as David being "an angel on earth."  It appears that every year on April 26th the Brame family puts a memorial in the newspaper for David. They have been criticized over the years not just for their steadfast loyalty to David but also for their failure to do things that the courts have required in order to reestablish a relationship with the children.  They were further criticized after David's mother had claimed they wanted a relationship with the children but did not have the money for a custody battle and then in 2006 won a lottery of $250,000 and seemingly ended their battle instead of stepping up.  Only they know the reasons behind their decisions.  In fairness to the Brame family they maintain that David has been ostracized by the media and by others unfairly. While obviously few of us can truly know if this is true, to be fair, it is not an impossible theory as the media does tend to sway public opinion.

With that said however, I cannot get on the side of the Brames family.  Do I believe that David was as abusive as Crystal's family maintains?  I cannot state that with absolute certainty.  However, what I can say is that it is obvious David Brames had issues long before Crystal was in his life.  Although the reasoning for failing the psychological exam to become an officer is unclear, there was obviously a reason he was not recommended to be a police officer in 1981, a full 10 years before he and Crystal married.  He was accused of raping a woman in 1988 and people have come forward claiming that he admitted doing this in almost a braggart way.  Again this was before Crystal was in the picture. Officers claim that while chief David hung a picture in his office of Al Pacino in character from "The Godfather." This to me says a lot about his attitude and personality.  David, and his family later, claim that the abuse claims were false and only manufactured to ruin his career but nothing I found really points to that direction.  It seems that she attempted to keep the filing as private as she could have and that it was he who seemed to tell everyone about the allegations she made.  Her family and friends maintain that she was insistent on not exchanging the children without witnesses and that she feared for her life. This seems to have been true which means she was not putting herself in a position in which others did not see what was going on and it once again become a he said/she said situation. It also appears that aside from supposed interactions they had with Crystal in describing her personality the Brame family has solely relied on incidents relayed to them from David.  They have made claims such as how Crystal would wake him in the middle of the night screaming at him or how he was teaching her gun safety but these were all David's side of things.  There were at least a few police reports or 911 calls to back some things Crystal had said but it does not seem to be the same for David.  I could find nothing that indicated that he ever tried to end the marriage or that he had filed a report of abuse on her.  The pictures he had taken in 1996 where he claim marks came from Crystal have been disputed by other saying that Crystal had informed them that he had injured himself lifting weights but had taken a picture and had said that if she ever tried to leave him he would show them saying she had abused him.  Again though it is a he said/she said situation.  In the end though it does not seem to really matter since regardless of the position his family takes, it was David who ultimately ended both their lives and damaged their children, their families and even the city of Tacoma forever.

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