'Please help me be a survivor': VPD officer who died by suicide pleaded for help in letter

The inquest into the suicide of a young Vancouver Police constable has heard the words of Nicole Chan, in a statement she wrote just weeks before she died. Rumina Daya reports.

“This incident has changed who I am as a person.”

That is the opening line of a victim impact statement written by Nicole Chan, a Vancouver police officer who took her own life in 2019 after making complaints about intimate relationships with two senior officers.

On Jan. 7, 2019, Chan wrote a letter to Chief Const. Dave Jones at the New Westminster Police Department that was handling the external investigation into her case.

Chan had filed complaints against Sgt. David Van Patten and Sgt. Greg McCullough. This victim impact statement was about Van Patten specifically.

“I was already suffering from mental health challenges and this incident aggravated my condition. I was betrayed, coerced and taken advantage of by somebody whom I respected and looked up to,” Chan wrote.

On Monday at the coroner’s inquest into Chan’s death, VPD Supt. Shelly Horne, who met Chan in October 2017, said she interviewed her about the complaints she had lodged against Van Patten.

Horne said Nicole was concerned about being coerced into having sex with Van Patten after he made a recording of content on another member’s phone, then threatened to send it to her husband and the other officer’s spouse.

Horne did not describe the content of the recording, but in a civil suit, Nicole’s family has alleged it was evidence of a relationship she was having with another officer who was a friend of Van Patten’s.

Chan was distressed about the recording and went to Van Patten’s apartment in New Westminster to talk to him about it, Horne testified.

“When she got there, she said Dave told her that he needed to feel close to her and that they needed to have sex,” Horne told the inquest. “So, Nicole told me that she had sex with him, but that she really felt disgusted by it, but felt that she had no real option but to do that.”

In the letter to Jones, Chan said since trying to go back to work in February 2018, she had “developed a fear of being inside other people’s homes.”

“I feel unsafe and the constant need to escape, which I believe stems from what I maintain was a sexual assault inside Dave’s apartment. I am unable to develop or maintain personal relationships due to all the issues I have developed.”

Chan said she had tried to read self-help books, had weekly sessions with her psychologist and had taken courses on mindfulness, and OEI Therapy.

“I am no longer whole despite my best efforts and it’s left me feeling helpless and hopeless,” she wrote.

Chan joined the Vancouver Police Department when she was 19 years old and said she always wanted to serve as a police officer. She considered wearing the badge a symbol of honour.

“Now all that is gone,” she said. “My mental concentration is gone. One of my strengths is talking to criminals and I can’t do that now. I constantly get flashbacks of coercion.”

She said she had never been trained to do anything else and her future with the VPD was uncertain.

Horne told the inquest on Monday that she spoke with Chan at Vancouver General Hospital — where she had been taken under the Mental Health Act — the day before she died.

Chan was frustrated that she was not able to work, while Van Patten was able to keep his job, she testified. Chan was on stress leave at the time.

Despite a previous suicide attempt, she was released from the hospital and took her own life in the early hours of the following morning.

In the letter dated earlier in the month, Chan described a grave fear of anyone she imagined having any power over her. She said she feared returning to work and even when she was performing light duties in 2018 she was unable to work overtime, despite facing financial struggles.

“If I brought this incident upon myself I would be accountable for everything that happened,” Chan wrote. “But I was sick and taken advantage of by a senior officer handling my file. There was a huge imbalance of power and I was severely depressed. I was honest with the department about my struggle and Dave used this information to exploit and manipulate me.”

She hoped Van Patten would not be able to continue as a police officer and she worried what happened to her would happen to someone else.

“I am passionate about victims’ rights, and never imagined that I would become a victim myself,” Chan said. “As a police officer, I always stood up for those who didn’t have a voice and I hope someone here will do that for me. Please help me get some justice. They say the world is not fair, but as officers, isn’t justice what we fight for? I am only one person but this has ruined my personal and professional life.

“Please help me be a survivor and not another victim. I am suffering but I still have the will to fight for this.”

Van Patten is currently not on the witness list for the coroner’s inquest, neither is McCullough.

The BC Coroners Service would not comment on why the two superior officers who allegedly had inappropriate relationships with Chan have not been called to give evidence.

Van Patten was ultimately dismissed. McCullough was suspended and later retired. An Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner-ordered investigation recommended criminal charges, but Crown prosecutors declined to pursue them.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca.

Learn more about preventing suicide with these warning signs and tips on how to help.

— with files from Simon Little and Rumina Daya

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said former Sgt. Greg McCullough resigned from the VPD. In fact, he retired.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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