Ten years ago Friday, the South Sound was stunned by news that Tacoma’s police chief had fatally shot his estranged wife and then himself – with their two young children nearby.
The tragedy was an intensely personal one for the families of Crystal Judson and David Brame, leaving two children orphans and loved ones distraught. But it was also a very public crime, taking place in a Gig Harbor parking lot and involving a high-ranking police officer.
It touched off weeks of investigation and soul-searching by city officials and police seeking the answers to two overarching questions: What could or should have been done in the days leading up to the murder-suicide that might have prevented it? And what changes need to be made going forward?
From the retrospective Sunday by a team of News Tribune reporters, it’s clear that the Brames’ escalating marital troubles and the chief’s deteriorating emotional state were well-known to the police chief’s subordinates and to his boss, then City Manager Ray Corpuz. Several TPD officers urged Corpuz to do something about Brame, but he declined. Crystal would pay the price for that inaction, and the city would pay a $12.5 million legal settlement to her family.
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But the aftermath of the tragedy saw some important positive changes on how domestic violence is addressed – not only as it relates to police officers, but in the larger community as well.
Out of the settlement reached with the Judson family came new policies at the state and local level. Tacoma police now have stronger guidelines to deal with officer-related domestic violence, and a state law passed in 2004 requires all law-enforcement agencies to develop a similar policy. It’s far less likely that the kind of alarms that were going off 10 years ago with Brame would be ignored today.
The Tacoma Police Department changed in other ways, too. It’s tightened up background checks and hiring practices for officers in ways that now probably would exclude someone like Brame. And under Brame’s successor, Don Ramsdell, the department has become a more open, progressive organization. In 2010, the TPD earned international accreditation, meaning it meets all the standards for how law enforcement agencies are supposed to operate.
The most concrete legacy of the 2003 tragedy is the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, which opened in 2005. Funded by the city, Pierce County and federal grants, the center provides one-stop assistance for victims of domestic violence in negotiating the court system and social services.
Dropping in to the center, victims can get help with many services such as filling out a protection order request and locating emergency housing for them and their children.
The center has helped thousands of victims at its Tacoma location, 718 Court E, and with its hotline (253-798-4166 or toll-free: 800-764-2420). Through its services it has translated the Judson family’s loss of Crystal into something that very well may have saved many other lives. That’s something for which her family – and the South Sound – can be proud.