VPD officers investigated over relationships with subordinate who took her own life
Published Wednesday, June 5, 2019 3:28PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 5, 2019 6:41PM PDT
Internal investigations have been launched against two Vancouver police officers over their relationships with a subordinate who died by suicide in January.
Const. Nicole Chan took her own life amid a battle with mental health and depression. But now, her family is speaking out for the first time, insisting there was another major stressor in her life leading up to her death.
An internal police investigation had been going on for several months into the actions of two superior officers, Sgt. Greg McCullough and Sgt. David Van Patten.
"I was just surprised to hear the investigation was going on for so long, where it affected her daily life," said Jenn Chan, Nicole’s sister. "It affected her for months and months. And she kind of lost her sense of purpose, when she’s worked her whole life to become an officer and a good officer and now she doesn’t feel safe doing it."
The investigation focused on the nature of the relationships between Chan and the two senior officers, which happened at different times. Both officers were in a position of influence over the younger and more junior constable. CTV News has learned that at some point Chan reported the relationships to the Vancouver Police Department.
She had been on stress leave from the force for several months before her suicide death as she dealt with her mental health challenges.
"I want justice to be served," said Jenn Chan. "I want the people that have heavily affected her life and created so much stress and anxiety in her life to basically be held accountable."
An email obtained by CTV News shows that the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which provides independent civilian oversight of investigations under the Police Act, confirmed to Chan’s family that one of the two investigations into the officers has been concluded.
It says Sgt. McCullough was found to have engaged in "discreditable conduct" and received a 15 day suspension "for failing to disclose to his managers a relationship with Nicole" and "for entering into a relationship with Nicole knowing that she was in a vulnerable state mentally and emotionally." McCullough has since retired from the force. He didn’t respond to requests for comment by email and phone.
The proceedings into Sgt. Van Patten are still ongoing, according to the email, and no findings have been made.
"I’m really sorry I’m not going to be able to get into this with you right now," Van Patten said when reached by phone. "I have nothing to say at this point but thank you for the call."
The Vancouver Police Department refused an on-camera interview and would not disclose any information about the investigation. In a brief email, media relations officer Sgt. Jason Robillard wrote, "Generally speaking, we do not provide information about personnel issues, OPCC investigations or Professional Standards Investigations due to privacy reasons."
He went on to write, "Regarding Constable Chan, we continue to maintain contact with her family and provide support as best we can. Our entire organization felt the impact of her untimely death and we are continuing to offer support to our members."
The OPCC also declined an interview. In a written statement, Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler said, "By law, the OPCC is prohibited from divulging any information related to investigations under the Police Act (sections 51.01 and 95) or disclose that an investigation has been or may be initiated under the Act subject to a narrow 'public interest' exception. Under Section 95 the Commissioner may disclose information to the public if he determines it to be in the public interest. No determination in this regard has been made."
The response from the OPCC also offered condolences: "The Commissioner expresses his sympathy and condolences to the family of Constable Chan and the membership of the VPD."
Jenn Chan is now in possession of a journal where, on occasion, her sister would write down her thoughts about the ordeal. One passage reads, "how can I return? No boss would want to work with me."
"When I read that, I was just like that is how much she was affected," Jenn Chan said. "She wants to go back to work but doesn’t feel comfortable."
There is also a detailed text thread between Jenn and Nicole Chan from the months leading up to her death. In July 2018, Nicole told her sister, "The worst part is my mental state is much worse now because of VPD."
Jenn Chan says she may never know exactly why her sister ended her own life. Her suicide note didn’t say. What she does believe is that the investigation into the actions of two fellow officers may have made an already painful life even more difficult.
"I think she always had in the back of her mind justice wouldn’t be served, They’d just get a slap on the wrist and that was a huge thing weighing on her," she said. "She felt hopeless about the whole situation."