by: LaRosa, Paul
Publisher: New American Library (Penguin Group)
reviewed: Lynard Barnes 3/15/2006
Summary: Murder and suicide of Seattle Police Chief David and Crystal Brame and possible causes.
Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper introduced the tone and substance of his excellent book, BREAKING RANK (see November 2005 review in TG Journal) with an open letter to former Tacoma Police Chief David Brame. The open letter focused on Brame and on domestic violence. The letter was direct. Domestic violence irrupts the home of those who appear law-abiding as well as those who enforce the law. But the letter also left the reader with a question: what exactly was the domestic violence perpetrated by David Brame? Paul LaRosa’s book, TACOMA CONFIDENTIAL is all about David Brame, his marriage, the abusive relationship of that marriage and the resulting deaths. After reading LaRosa’s book, you go back to Chief Stamper’s open letter and you realize that, no, there were no questions left unanswered. The senselessness of Brame’s act must stand alone as a testament not only to what he was but also a testament to the inherent nature of his relationship with his wife and those around them. Therein lies the scary barometer of what a community and what a society can become.
In one respect, TACOMA CONFIDENTIAL is an unusual book describing the particulars of a common circumstance. Paul LaRosa attempts to give both sides of a domestic abuse story. The knowledgeable sources on both sides, David and Crystal Brame are dead, so it is nearly impossible to be definitive about the abuse. However, what LaRosa clearly presents is the essence of an abusive relationship. The sequence of events in the relationship, as he presents them, speak tragically but eloquently of the majesty of life. LaRosa shows us that David and Crystal Brame, were joined in a failed endeavor. Was one more at fault that the other? The author does not chose sides. On the day of the murder and suicide, it was David Brame who decided, for reasons unknown, to take his gun with him on an outing with his two children. It was Crystal Brame, upon spotting her estranged husband’s car, who triggered the confrontation by following him into a strip-mall. Does David Brame bear ultimate responsibility for the senseless violence that ensued? Absolutely. But as you read of the events leading up to what LaRosa describes as the last two minutes of David and Crystal’s lives, you are forced to take in a broader picture.
It could be argued that LaRosa’s balanced approach in describing the lives of David and Crystal does a disservice to both. He recites stories Crystal told others, including her parents, of the abuse David inflicted against her. Her stories paint her husband as a controlling, sex-obsessed miser. LaRosa points out that the only documented physical abuse were some pictures David had his mother take showing bruises he said he suffered at the wailing hands of Crystal. The she-said, he-said evidence strong emotional involvement of both in their relationship. The truth is buried with them, as LaRosa repeatedly cautions by way of citing sources. What is not in dispute is that David Brame attempted to get his wife involved in partner-swapping sex and three-way sex.
What is curious about the Brame relationship is that David did not go outside the marriage to fulfill his sexual fantasies but instead attempted to bring others in. This would seem to support those who saw his personality as that of a control-freak. It is a trait which logically should have extended to his job as Tacoma Police Chief. But no where does LaRosa indicate that Brame was a minutia oriented manager. In fact, during the year and four months Brame was Chief, the only control he exerted seemed to have been over the promotion of fellow woman police officer with whom he was trying to seduce into a three-way sexual relationship with his wife. Brame went through the motions of being a Chief of police. It was a role, an act which he re-scripted from the role of the Godfather in the Godfather movies which he apparently watched frequently, along with a video of his wedding. David Brame had all the earmarks of the Confucian “little man” in a high place.
As riveting as the story of David and Crystal Brame is, the political workings of the Tacoma Police Department overshadows events and becomes a subject unto itself. Chief Brame’s pursuit on the police officer he was attempting to entice into his and Crystal’s bed filed a sexual harassment lawsuit after Brame’s death. The city of Tacoma agreed to pay her $750,000 to settle. At the time the harassment was going on, others in the department knew about it, including the Assistant Chief who was named Acting Police Chief after Brame’s death. The assistant chief did nothing about the harassment while it was going on. She was was put on administrative leave about a month after being named Acting Chief and the harassment came to light. The Acting Chief was allowed to retire with a tax-free annual disability payment of over sixty-thousand dollars. According to LaRosa, the final report issued by Washington state attorney Christine Gregoire on the Brame affair “criticized Woodard [the assistant-acting Chief] for having ‘extraordinarily poor judgment’”. And how did the Assistant Chief get her job? L:aRosa cites rumors that she agreed not to put in for the Chief’s job after Brame assured her that he would pick her as Assistant Chief when he got selected. Regardless, Brame did pick her.
Rarely do you run across a story so neatly tied together in which ego and incompetence merge so perfectly to provide the foundation for tragedy. The recent Katrina hurricane catastrophe in New Orleans involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is possibly another, which on a comparative scale, was more horrendous and extensive in impact. The David and Crystal Brame story however is closer to home-incompetent leadership in local government, incompetent leadership peppered throughout the police department, incompetent, self-centered and narcissistic parents going through the motions of being part of a community shared values. Their lives were a tragedy not only for themselves but especially for those around them. Those who did not see through the veneer and even some who did.
LaRosa reports that the Brame’s two children arrived at the murder-suicide scene of their mother’s car just in time to see her sprawled on the pavement struggling for life. One of the children would later relate the scene to a child psychologist. That was the worst of what they saw. Before that, there were the loud and unsettling parental arguments continuing even after the couple separated and going through the divorce. It is difficult to imagine what those children must live though in the world inside their heads. Unfortunately, just thinking about that tempers whatever feelings of compassion one might have for the parents.
In what could be attributed to LaRosa’s producer for the CBS newsmagazine “48 HOURS”, he provides a dramatic end to the relationship of David and Crystal by pointing out that she died almost to the minute that David’s body was being lowered into his grave. The information puts into stark focus the relationship between the two.
LaRosa’s TACOMA rises far above a true crime story. It is thought provoking and provides some valuable insights into a life of responsibility whether one accepts responsibility in life or not.