As a coroner’s inquest begins Monday into the death of a Vancouver police officer who took her own life in 2019, her family’s recently amended lawsuit against police, the city and others may offer clues as to what jurors will hear.
Const. Nicole Chan, a nine-year Vancouver Police Department member, died by suicide in January 2019, two years after coming forward with allegations of inappropriate relationships with two senior officers.
One of those officers, Sgt. Dave Van Patten, was later dismissed from the VPD, while the other, Sgt. Greg McCullough, was given a 15-day suspension and later retired.
Chan’s family filed a lawsuit in January 2021, alleging her suicide was the result of the department’s poor culture, leadership, training and policies, and accusing Van Patten and McCullough of malicious and/or wilful misconduct and gross negligence.
That lawsuit was significantly amended last November, with new allegations and defendants, including an inspector — the department’s fourth highest rank.
According to court documents, the amended claim was filed after Chan’s family negotiated a settlement with McCullough to drop him from the lawsuit in exchange for testimony that would reveal new allegations.
The amended lawsuit still claims that the her employer failed to protect Chan as a vulnerable female officer, and that she suffered sexual harassment and repeated sexual advances, intimidation using rank, workplace reprisals and insufficient psychological care.
The Vancouver Police Board, named as Chan’s employer in the claim, said it would “not be commenting on a civil suit.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court, and none of the defendants have filed a response to either the original or the amended claim.
Intimate relationships and mental distress
According to the amended claim, Chan’s first sexual relationship with a VPD employee began when she was just 17 years old.
She was not yet a member of the department, but the employee, Const. Corey Bech, was a recruiter at the time and eventually “convinced” her to apply for a job.
She signed on as a jail guard in 2009, and would maintain an intermittent sexual relationship with Bech throughout her employment, including times when he outranked her and while both were married to other people, the lawsuit alleges.
Nicole Chan’s sister, Jenn Chan, later told Global News that Bech has been removed as a defendant. No new documents have been filed in court yet, according to online records. Chan’s lawyer, Chrystie Stewart, did not return a request for more information.
After Chan became a full-time officer in 2011, her family alleges she was in a vehicle incident while off-duty that resulted from “acute mental distress arising from an imitate relationship trigger.”
Her then-boyfriend, a VPD officer whom she later married, reported it to their employer, who interpreted it as a suicide attempt, the suit claims.
Chan was off work for a week and underwent a psychological assessment, and her employer was informed “she suffered from severe mental distress triggered by intimate relationships,” the suit alleges.
In 2015, Chan met with Const. Derrick Kaine for help applying to the VPD’s Emergency Response Team. Kaine is accused in the amended claim of sending her sexually charged text messages, and becoming involved sexually with Chan for about a year and a half, insisting the relationship remain secret.
That same year, Van Patten, a human resources officer, began flirting and texting with Chan “until, at Van Patten’s urging, Nicole entered into an intimate relationship with him” during a work trip to Chilliwack, the lawsuit claims, also urging her to keep it a secret.
“At the time, the VPD and Employer had no policies … to protect vulnerable employees such as Nicole from exploitation by senior officers,” the claim says.
A few months later, when the relationship with Van Patten became “turbulent,” Chan suffered a second relationship-triggered episode of mental distress, the suit claims. She sought medical help and was diagnosed with depression, it alleges.
Suicide attempt 'openly and freely talked about'
In May 2016, the suit claims, Chan crossed the border into Bellingham, Wash., where she phoned a senior constable and told him she intended to kill herself.
The constable called the squad supervisor, who immediately informed Insp. Joanne McCormack “who instructed him not to tell anyone else,” it alleges.
McCormick then dispatched the VPD missing persons unit to Bellingham to retrieve Chan, but told the squad supervisor not to let her know the unit was coming, it alleges.
McCormick acted “outside her authority, outside the scope of her employment, and outside the jurisdiction of the VPD,” the lawsuit claims, also accusing the VPD of not telling the family what had happened.
Read more: Vancouver police chief confirms investigation into allegations from VPD officer who later died by suicide
Upon her return, Chan was transferred to the human resources team, where Van Patten worked, and word of her suicide attempt spread quickly through the department, amid a “culture of gossip that had the effect of creating an unsafe environment,” the lawsuit claims.
“The VPD culture was punctuated with misogynistic humour which was often referred to as ‘black humour,'” the suit claims.
“The members openly and freely talked about Nicole’s suicide attempt.”
Chan was referred to a psychologist, who prescribed her medication and advised she needed extra support, including being driven to and from mental health appointments.
She chose an officer she felt safe with, the lawsuit claims, and over the course of two months, the two began an intermittent sexual relationship during which Chan revealed she was also having intimate relationships with Bech, Kaine and Van Patten.
That summer, Van Patten obtained Kaine’s mobile phone, on which he discovered evidence of Kaine’s relationship with Chan, the suit claims.
- Woman who knew teen stabbed in Toronto subway found him injured, tried to save his life
- Man arrested for making over 20 ‘swatting’ calls across U.S., Canada
- Pizza receipt leads police to 12-year-old suspect in Milwaukee man’s murder
- Quebec pedophile hunters face child pornography distribution charges
Van Patten filmed himself scrolling through the phone with the aim of threatening to disclose the affair to both Chan and Kaine’s spouses, the suit alleges.
“Van Patten threatened to send the evidence to Nicole’s husband and Constable Kaine’s wife if (Chan) did not comply with his demands for sex,” the suit claims.
“Nicole complied as she was fearful of losing her career, her marriage and her reputation.”
Chan later discovered Van Patten was in charge of her human resources file, the suit claims, and that he told her she couldn’t trust the psychologist because he wanted to shield himself, which at the same time put her at risk of insufficient treatment.
Chan was recommended for light duties in November 2016 and began recommended psychological treatment in January 2017, according to the suit.
The following September, Chan was placed on paid leave after she had a fourth mental health episode triggered by Van Patten’s “campaign of coercion, threats and extortion”, the suit alleges. She also filed a complaint with her employer and a claim with WorkSafeBC.
A senior officer referred her for a psychological assessment, which was eventually delivered to the VPD human resources department and diagnosed her with a “depressive mood disorder that is exacerbated by intimate relationship stressors.”
Multiple investigations, tragic conclusion
According to court documents, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner opened an investigation into Chan’s complaint in April 2018 under the Police Act, though that was soon suspended to allow for a criminal investigation of Van Patten’s conduct.
Criminal charges were recommended two months later, the suit claims, but the BC Prosecution Service declined to pursue them.
Around this time, WorkSafeBC accepted Chan’s claim of having a mental disorder resulting from work, and found her to have been “exposed to cumulative events of multiple sexual assaults” between March 2016 and October 2017, the suit alleges.
The OPCC case resumed, and in December 2018, the office began investigating four allegations of discreditable misconduct against Van Patten.
On Jan. 7, 2019, Chan gave an impact statement to the OPCC in which “she described the negative effects on her mental health, her feelings of exploitation and coercion, and her fear she would never be able to return to her career path of deployable work,” the suit claims.
On Jan. 26, first responders were called to her home following a 911 call and she was taken to hospital for “another acute bout of intense mental distress,” the suit alleges.
She was released and taken home by VPD officers, and in the early hours of the next morning, she took her own life by hanging, the suit claims.
Ultimately, the OPCC investigation found three of the four allegations against Van Patten to be substantiated, and he was handed a pair of concurrent 30-day suspensions without pay and terminated, according to the suit.
As a result of the investigation and Chan’s death, the OPCC recommended the Vancouver Police Board hire a third-party human resource management expert to review the department’s policies and procedures around workplace relationships involving power dynamics, supervisory and leadership functions and vulnerable employees, according to the suit.
“The Board or the VPD or both failed or neglected to establish priorities, goals and objectives that recognized the disproportionate degrees women are more susceptible to sexual harassment and abuse when they are also a vulnerable person,” it says.
The jury at Monday’s inquest will hear evidence from witnesses and determine the facts surrounding Chan’s death. The jury will make recommendations to prevent similar deaths, but not any findings of fault.
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.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts, Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868, and the Trans Lifeline 1-877-330-6366 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said former Sgt. Greg McCullough resigned from the VPD. In fact, he retired.