City of Tacoma releases David Brame's lost psych test

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TACOMA — The city of Tacoma has released a long-lost psychological evaluation that helps explain why David Brame was hired as a police officer in 1981.

Brame rose through the ranks to become Tacoma's police chief. On April 26, 2003, he fatally shot his estranged wife, Crystal, and then committed suicide.

Since then, several investigations have probed Brame's career. One mystery has been why he was hired in 1981, even though public records show he flunked one psychological exam and was judged a "marginal candidate" by a second psychologist.

The answer to the question of Brame's hiring apparently lay in a forgotten file cabinet. A city worker found two envelopes while cleaning old file cabinets last week, according to Acting City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.

The envelopes contained four psychological exams. They included a previously unreleased evaluation in 1981 that recommended Brame as a "very fine" candidate for the police department, and a 1989 exam that judged him "fit for duty" after he had been accused of rape.

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said the newly discovered 1981 evaluation proves Brame's hiring followed normal procedures.

"That explains why he was hired. That was the great unanswered question," Baarsma said yesterday.

Crystal Brame's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, Pierce County and several city officials including Baarsma. The lawsuit alleges officials condoned Brame's violent behavior and ignored signs he was going to kill his wife.

Tacoma City Councilman Kevin Phelps said the uncovered records should help the city defend against the lawsuit.

"The city did all the right steps and did their homework," Phelps said. "I don't think there's any psychological test in the country that would have suggested David Brame would have done what he did."

Paul Luvera, attorney for Crystal Brame's family, said the new documents don't let Tacoma off the hook.

"Having read the three tests, it only confirms the fact this man should never have been hired as a police officer and certainly should not have been promoted to chief of police," Luvera said. "These are not the kind of results you would want."

Brame was first evaluated in September 1981, after he applied to the Tacoma Police Department. Psychologist Steven Sutherland recommended against hiring Brame, concluding the 23-year-old was depressed, immature and insecure.

"I feel that these personality variables will have a detrimental effect on his work as a police officer and will contribute to potential danger for him, his fellow officers and the community at large," the psychologist wrote.

Six days after Sutherland delivered his negative report to the police department, Brame got a second psychological exam. The results were totally different.

Psychologist John Larsgaard found Brame "mature and stable and realistic about life," and said the personality test made him seem "almost ideal."

Larsgaard did note Brame seemed to be tailoring his answers and may have tried to "psych out" the personality test. Still, he highly recommended Brame.

"I am confident that he would make a very fine young policeman, who, with years of training and experience, could be a valuable asset to the Tacoma Police Department," Larsgaard wrote. This positive evaluation has not been made public before now.

Brame then got a third, tiebreaker evaluation. The third psychologist, James Shaw, saw Brame in November 1981. Shaw said Brame seemed to be a "marginal" candidate. However, he recommended Brame with the caveat that he be closely supervised.

Brame did well at police academy and during his probation at the Tacoma Police Department. He was promoted through the ranks, even after being accused of rape in 1988.

The Tacoma Police Department investigated the allegation internally instead of referring it to an outside law enforcement agency. The police chief at the time, Ray Fjetland, closed the investigation with the conclusion "not sustained." Brame was never charged.

The documents released Thursday show that Brame was evaluated by psychologist James Shaw again after the rape allegation.

Shaw said Brame was "fully cooperative" with the evaluation and was "fully fit for duty" as a police officer.

Shaw's letter doesn't refer to the rape allegation, merely "an investigation which was quite stressful to Officer Brame." There's no indication that Shaw knew the nature of the stressful investigation.

Luvera said the discovery of Brame's psychological records raises more questions than it answers.

"They found them cleaning out a filing cabinet - why weren't those tests in his personnel file?" Luvera asked. "What else lurks in the back of a filing cabinet somewhere that's really important?"