WARNING: This story contains disturbing details and may not be suitable for all readers. Discretion is advised.
A jury is now deliberating on recommendations in the inquest into the suicide of a Vancouver police constable who complained about inappropriate relationships with senior officers.
Nicole Chan, 30, took her own life on Jan. 27, 2019, hours after she had been released from hospital where a psychiatrist had declined to admit her on mental health grounds.
It came amid investigations into the actions of two senior officers who she had reported inappropriate relationships with, one of whom she said had coerced her into sex.
“The Chan family’s desire for outcomes from this inquest was really to a amplify Nicole’s voice. We heard from herself in her victim impact statement that she didn’t want to be a victim, and she was asking everybody to help her stop being a victim,” Gloria Ng, inquest counsel for the Chan family told Global News on Tuesday.
“What the Chan family hopes is that everybody understands that Nicole tried her best. And she simply didn’t have, for reasons we may never fully understand, she simply didn’t have the proper resources to help get her to that point where she got to see really the full implications of her complaint and her allegations.”
Allegations of sexual 'blackmail'
Chan’s sister Jenn testified that the Chan felt “blackmailed” into a sex with Sgt. Dave Van Patten, who was her superior and worked in the Human Resources department.
The inquest heard evidence that Van Patten had recorded video of photos depicting her genitals from another officer’s phone, then threatened to reveal it to her husband if she didn’t maintain a sexual relationship with him.
Supt. Shelly Horne, who interviewed Chan while working for the VPD sex crimes unit, said Chan told her she complied, but felt “disgusted” by it. She continued with the relationship out of fear Van Patten could hurt her career, she testified.
Chan reported her complaints in 2017, and was placed on stress leave amid deepening mental health issues as the investigation progressed.
Several witnesses described how she was upset that Van Patten remained on the job, while she had been sidelined and felt ostracized within the department. Her sister testified that Chan was fighting depression and anxiety, but yearned to go back to work.
Her friend and mentor, Sgt. Corey Bech, testified that Chan worried a “rumour mill” within the department would destroy her reputation and prevent her from ever getting back on the job.
The inquest also heard Chan’s own words, in the form of a victim impact statement she wrote to then-New Westminster Police Department (NWPD) Chief Dave Jones, who was handling the external investigation into her case.
“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.
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.”
The inquest heard that the NWPD conducted a criminal investigation into Van Patten and recommended sexual assault charges, but the BC Prosecution Service did not pursue them.
Separate Police Act investigations concluded Van Patten and the other officer Chan had complained about, Sgt. Greg McCullough, had committed misconduct. McCullough received a 15 day suspension and later retired. Van Patten was dismissed. All of the discipline occurred after Chan’s death.
An hour and 20 minutes in hospital
Numerous witnesses at the inquest testified about the chaotic final hours before Chan’s death.
The night before she took her own life, Chan was frantic about the ongoing investigation into the complaints she had lodged, her boyfriend Jamie Gifford testified.
Chan had threatened to kill herself with a noose she’d fashioned from a dog leash, and had hidden a knife in the bathtub and a knife or scissors in her bed, he said.
The inquest heard that 911 was called and she was transported to hospital, and how police and paramedics had raised concerns about her being discharged given her history of prior suicide attempts.
Read more: Suicidal VPD officer released from hospital within 2 hours night before death, inquest hears
VPD Const. Warren Head testified he’d told doctors he’d virtually never seen a doctor decline to admit someone in similar circumstances. He testified he advocated for her admission, telling the doctor that as an experienced police officer, Chan would know what to say in order to get them to release her.
Evidence presented at the inquest showed Chan only spent about an hour and 20 minutes before being sent home from hospital.
Psychiatrist Dr. Kiran Sayyaparaju testified he didn’t have all the information about Chan’s case, and that the constable had told him she didn’t try and kill herself.
He testified he could not legally hold Chan against her will. He offered Chan the opportunity to stay in hospital voluntarily for a few days, but she declined.
Police took Chan home, and in the early morning hours of the following day she hanged herself from a bedroom door.
“If we could go back in time and rewrite history, what Nicole’s family would have liked would have been for a consistent stream of information to have been translated from those who were at her apartment, whether that be Mr. Gifford or the police to the EHS paramedic, to the social worker or the nurse … to the ultimate assessing psychiatrist,” Ng said outside the Burnaby coroners court.
“The difficulty is what we’ve seen in Nicole’s case is there was a complete breakdown in consistent and complete information. There certainly was information.”
The inquest is not a criminal proceeding, and the coroners jury cannot find fault or guilt.
The presiding coroner has charged the jury with developing a set of recommendations to help prevent similar deaths in the future, however those recommendations are non-binding.
— with files from Global News’ Rumina Daya
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 9-1-1 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.
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