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Friday, December 23, 2011

[WI][WA] "What good is the Wisconsin policy when it's not mandated that you use it?"

To see Journal Sentinel's
BOTH SIDES OF THE LAW
online project, click here.

Lane Judson, father of Crystal Judson Brame - who was murdered by her Tacoma Washington police chief husband:

"A policy without a law to back it up is just a piece of paper. What good is the Wisconsin policy when it's not mandated that you use it?"...

MURDER BY LAW OFFICERS MET WITH ACTION, INERTIA
[Link to article online - includes photos]
The Journal Sentinel
By Gina Barton
Dec. 22, 2011

In 2003, the police chief of Tacoma, Wash., killed his wife, Crystal Judson Brame, and himself in front of their two young children. The community was shellshocked. A task force of some 80 people - including Washington's attorney general and a state Supreme Court justice - came together to lobby for law and policy changes that would protect the spouses and romantic partners of violent police officers.

In 2007, a sheriff's deputy in Forest County, Wis., killed his estranged girlfriend and five others with his department-issued assault rifle. Then he killed himself.

The community was shellshocked. A task force came together.

That's where the similarities end.

While the State of Washington passed an unprecedented law that requires police departments to enact greater safeguards for victims of officer-involved domestic violence, Wisconsin was left with a model policy that police departments are free to ignore.

"Washington is not unique in terms of the disproportionate power that police have in society," said Barbara Madsen, now chief justice of the Washington state Supreme Court, who co-chaired the task force. "If a victim can't go to the police, where can she go?"

The Washington task force identified gaps in the system that prevented Crystal Judson Brame and others like her from getting the help they needed - gaps that still exist in Wisconsin. They include: Inadequate psychological screening for potential police hires; investigations influenced by the perpetrator or his associates; and a lack of support for victims.

At the Milwaukee Police Department, at least 16 officers on the force as of Oct. 1 had been disciplined after internal investigators concluded they had committed acts of domestic violence, according to a Journal Sentinel investigation published earlier this year. In 18 cases, officers' wives or romantic partners have sought restraining orders - although many were not granted.

At the time of Crystal Brame's death, the Tacoma Police Department's policy on officer-involved domestic violence was similar to one used in Milwaukee today. It consisted of a few paragraphs specific to officers who are also perpetrators. Beyond that, domestic violence incidents within police families were to be treated virtually the same as any other case.

Crystal's death helped the department - and the state - realize they needed a special set of rules for domestic abusers who are also officers, said Tacoma police Capt. Tom Strickland.

"If we have a suspect who is an officer, they are much more dangerous than a non-police officer domestic violence suspect," Strickland said. "Officers can be more conniving, use surveillance techniques and all kinds of other things. They know the law and they are armed."

An abusive officer can evade justice in ways that would be impossible for an average citizen, experts say.

Officers know how to pursue people and physically restrain them - in many cases, without leaving a mark. When they use force, they know how to provide legal justification. For example, the abuser might call 911 himself as a way to bolster a later claim of self-defense.

Friends who work in the criminal justice system tend to believe abusive officers who label their victims crazy or downplay their own actions. Abusive cops know the locations of domestic violence shelters. And victim advocates who work in those shelters are reluctant to side against an officer for fear of losing the department's cooperation in other cases.

"The police may be great at catching abusers and batterers who are not police, who are not people in positions of power," said attorney Debra Hannula, who co-chaired the Washington task force. "When it comes to policing their own, you seem to get away with a lot."

Domestic violence is far more common among the families of police officers than among the rest of the population, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Women and Policing. At least 40% of police families are affected by domestic violence, as opposed to an estimated 10% in other households.

David Brame abused his wife without consequences for years, according to Crystal's parents, Lane and Patty Judson. Despite that abuse and other warning signs, he was also allowed to rise through the ranks of the Tacoma Police Department.

Ten years before Brame married Crystal Judson in 1991, he was hired by the department despite a psychologist's findings he was a potential danger to himself, other officers and the community, according to records obtained by Crystal's parents during a civil suit in the wake of her death.

He was evaluated twice more: the second examiner, whom Brame paid for, deemed him suitable for the job; the third recommended against his hiring.

Early in Brame's career, a woman reported him to internal affairs, alleging he had raped her after a date, leaving his gun on the nightstand to threaten her. Despite investigators' belief that Brame had done it and his admission to another officer, the case was closed as not provable and he was not disciplined, according to court records. The case was not referred to prosecutors for potential charges.

Crystal, who had been an outgoing woman with many friends, started to withdraw shortly after the wedding, her parents said. Brame strictly limited her access to money and monitored her movements, they said. She first called 911 in fear of her husband in 1996. During an argument, Brame gathered up his guns and threatened Crystal and their daughter, then 2.

"He told her, 'A bullet in both your heads would take care of both of you,' " Lane Judson said.

The police department in the Washington town where they lived, Gig Harbor, responded. Officers there simply forwarded the information to the neighboring Tacoma police, where Brame was a sergeant, Lane Judson said.

"Nothing came of it," he said.

A few weeks later, Brame was the one to call the Gig Harbor police, claiming that Crystal - a foot shorter and 75 pounds lighter - had attacked him. He backed off when an officer told him he would have to testify in order for the case to go forward, her parents said.

In 1997, Crystal went to see a lawyer about a divorce. In the middle of the meeting, Brame came in and told the lawyer, who had done some work for Tacoma police, that Crystal was crazy. She gave up on the idea of divorce a few weeks later, when she realized she was pregnant with their second child, her parents said.

In 2001, Brame was named police chief.

When Crystal sought help from a domestic violence advocacy group, they told her they couldn't help her because of her husband's position. When she called Tacoma's assistant chief to report that Brame threatened her life, the assistant chief took four pages of notes, then turned them over to Brame, her parents later learned.

"She said, 'You know, Dad, I feel like I'm fighting the whole city of Tacoma,' " her father recalled.

In February 2003, Brame pointed a gun at his wife's head and told her, "Accidents happen," according to her father.

Crystal moved out and filed for divorce.

The last time Patty Judson spoke with her daughter was April 26, 2003. Crystal was on her way back from a parenting class, required by the State of Washington for divorcing couples with children.

She usually didn't drive alone.

Although her mother warned her against it, Crystal stopped at a strip mall to get some cough drops, maybe go tanning. No one knows for sure if Brame showed up in the same parking lot by coincidence or if he had followed her there.

Brame locked his children in the car. Then he pulled his Police Department gun out of his pocket and headed across the parking lot toward his wife.

Eight-year-old Haley told her little brother to be quiet and opened the car door. She had to save her mother, she would later tell her grandmother. She had to call for help.

The car alarm blared.

And then, the shots rang out.

Questioned change

Despite Crystal's death and the systemic problems it revealed, police agencies in Washington questioned the necessity for change, Madsen said. They tried to heap all the blame for Crystal's death on Brame, ignoring the holes in the system that allowed it to happen. They also complained about the cost, both of changing their procedures and of training officers.

It became clear fairly quickly that unless there was a law requiring departments to improve, they probably wouldn't, Madsen said.

"They were not going to do it anyway," she said. "Not with that attitude."

The task force Madsen helped lead successfully lobbied for legislation that requires every police agency in Washington to adopt and enforce a stand-alone policy on officer-involved domestic violence.

At a minimum, each policy must lay out protocols for screening potential police hires for domestic incidents; responding to reports of domestic violence by police officers; sharing information about those reports with other agencies; maintaining independence during the investigations; disciplining officers; controlling officers' access to weapons; and supporting victims.

Departments may adopt the state's model policy or expand on it with their own solutions.

For example, as a way to support victims, the Tacoma Police Department created the position of family violence coordinator. The coordinator's job is to help victims understand what is going on with the investigation and to keep them safe by connecting them with services, said Strickland, who held the position for five years.

"We do care about our families," he said. "We are going to hold our people accountable if they step over the line. We don't want anything else terrible to happen, and we're going to do whatever we can to stop it."

The penalty for failure to enact an acceptable policy under the law is decertification by the state, Madsen said. Within three years of the law's passage, 98.5% of law enforcement agencies had written policies and trained their officers on how to comply.

Washington state Sen. Debbie Regala (D-Tacoma), who championed the legislation, said it prevents authorities from ignoring officer-involved domestic violence.

"Sometimes people see these things going on and pretend they don't know about it because they really don't want to address it," she said. "This (law) sees that it's addressed, and addressed before it escalates to something like the murder of Crystal."

Wisconsin legislation

In Wisconsin - even after the 2007 mass murder in Crandon and an incident around the same time in which a Wausau police officer seriously injured his wife by crashing their car into a concrete bridge - a bill that would have required psychological screening for potential police hires didn't pass.

Some smaller departments complained it was too expensive, according to an aide to state Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), who co-sponsored the bill.

While the two incidents resulted in the drafting of a statewide policy on officer-involved domestic violence, there was no discussion about passing a law that would require departments to use it, said Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Seger said she and the others who helped write the policy hoped departments would adopt it because it was endorsed by the state Department of Justice's Law Enforcement Standards Board.

The 104-page policy contains an educational component that discusses the causes of the problem and its impact on the community. It gives clear, step-by-step instructions for investigations, including lists of who should be called to the scene and what kinds of paperwork should be completed. The policy also addresses how departments should deal with abusive officers.

The Department of Justice convened two training sessions in 2009, shortly after the policy was approved by the standards board, according to spokeswoman Dana Brueck. Participants included 131 people representing 69 law enforcement agencies, including nine from the Milwaukee Police Department. In addition, the state's Office of Justice Assistance has provided training for approximately 200 people.

But no one tracks how many departments have adopted the policy.

"A policy without a law to back it up is just a piece of paper," said Lane Judson. "What good is the Wisconsin policy when it's not mandated that you use it?"

The assistant chief who until recently oversaw officer performance and discipline at the Milwaukee Police Department, Darryl Winston, said in May he had not read the state's model policy.

At a November meeting with Journal Sentinel editors and reporters, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the policy was too long and too detailed.

"It has everything from park the car, turn off the car, put the keys in your pocket, you know?" he said.

Instead, when a complaint of domestic violence is lodged against a Milwaukee police officer, investigators follow a 32-page general policy on domestic violence that applies to both civilians and police officers, Flynn said. Four paragraphs apply specifically to officers.

The key difference is that when the perpetrator is a cop, the responding officer is required to notify a supervisor, he said.

"The chain of command has got to get involved," Flynn said. "Everything else that affects that officer involved in domestic violence is the exact same thing that affects every other citizen."

Flynn argued his department meets or exceeds national standards for dealing with abusive officers.

But he said he doesn't have a problem with allowing officers who have committed acts of domestic violence to investigate it - a direct contradiction to the recommendations in the state's model policy.

That includes officers such as Robert Velez, who was arrested for domestic violence battery, battery while armed and misconduct in public office in 2001 after he used his badge to track down his wife, who had gone to a hotel to escape his abuse, according to internal-affairs records.

Velez lied to hotel staff, telling them he was working a drug investigation undercover. When he got to the room, Velez punched his wife in the face and beat the man who was there with her, the records say. Velez ultimately pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery for beating the man. He served a year of probation and spent three days in jail. He was suspended from the department for three days.

Shortly after Velez's history was first reported as part of the newspaper's "Both Sides of the Law" series in October, he contacted a reporter via Facebook to say he and his wife have saved their 24-year marriage and raised two sons, who are now in college. He did not reply to requests for an interview.

Velez is allowed to respond when battered women call for help, records show.

Not allowing him - or the 15 other officers who have been disciplined after internal investigators determined they committed acts of domestic violence - to respond to such calls would be a "slippery slope," said Flynn.

"The fact that they have been accused of domestic violence or had an argument with their wife that the neighbors called (police) on, or what have you, they're still expected to do their jobs and enforce the law," Flynn said. "The same is true of those who have driven through speed traps. That doesn't disqualify them from writing speeding tickets. . . . They are police officers. We expect them to do their duty."

Comparing domestic violence with speeding tells victims the department isn't taking them seriously, said Seger, head of the state's anti-domestic violence coalition.

"We know that domestic violence always has the consequences of intimidating, threatening scaring, hurting and sometimes killing another person," she said. "It is very different."
[police officer involved domestic violence oidv intimate partner violence ipv abuse law enforcement public safety lethal fatality fatalities murder state politics]


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