Constable Nicole Chan believed she would never return to work at the Vancouver Police Department because human resource officers went to the hospital when she was apprehended under the Mental Health Act, a police sergeant told a coroner’s inquest Monday.
Sgt. Corey Bech, who described himself as a friend and mentor of Constable Chan’s, said he spoke with her the night before she died of suicide.
She was anxious about workplace rumours, he told the coroner’s jury.
“It got so bad that she couldn’t even, she didn’t want to be around members in uniform, or members at all towards the end of her life,” he said.
“She had zero contact with anybody from the VPD, other than myself, at the end.”
He said Constable Chan still remains a topic of the department’s “rumour mill.”
“That part of our work culture is not healthy, but it’s very difficult to confront,” he said.
Constable Chan was also angry that Sergeant David Van Patten had been able to keep his job, Sgt. Bech said.
The inquest has heard that Constable Chan accused Sgt. Van Patten of extorting her to continue a sexual relationship.
“If he was there, she was just in an untenable situation for her to try and get back into policing with him being in the organization,” Sgt. Bech said.
He said he didn’t know how serious her situation was when he talked to her the night before she died.
“I wish that somebody had given me a heads-up on how she was [and] what happened that night. Had I known more details, I probably wouldn’t have ended with a phone call,” he said, referring to her apprehension and hospitalization under the Mental Health Act.
Constable Chan died Jan. 27, 2019.
Adam Irish, a paramedic with BC Ambulance Services who responded to Constable Chan’s apartment that morning, described how he and his partner found her unresponsive with no possibility of resuscitation.
Other first responders, including VPD officers, who attended Constable Chan’s condo told the inquest that the scene looked like a well-planned suicide.
Constable Chan had laid out several items, including a suicide note, her passport, a B.C. driver’s licence, her police identification, a wallet and a notebook.
The note asked that her dog Ollie be given to her sister, Jennifer.
“I love him, I love you, Jenn. I’m so sorry. There’s nothing anyone could have done,” Constable Chan wrote.
The notebook, which was left on her kitchen counter alongside her other personal items, included pages that read, “How can I return. No boss would want to work with me” and “I don’t want you to take me to court and hold it over my head for the next few years. I can’t do this any more.”
Constable Chan, who was on stress leave at the time, died three weeks after she wrote a victim impact statement about Sgt. Van Patten.
The letter, addressed to New Westminster police who were investigating Constable Chan’s allegations against Sgt. Van Patten, said she was sexually assaulted by him in his apartment.
She detailed her anguish that Sgt. Van Patten, who was a senior officer, had “taken advantage” of her in an “imbalance of power” while she was severely depressed.
Constable Chan said she was already suffering from mental-health challenges, but the sexual assault by Sgt. Van Patten aggravated her condition, stalled her career and affected her ability to maintain relationships.
Her sister told the inquest last week that Sgt. Van Patten was “blackmailing” Constable Chan to continue a sexual relationship.
A civil lawsuit filed on behalf of her family last year says that around January, 2016, Constable Chan approached Sgt. Van Patten to “help her in her pursuit” of a position on the department’s emergency response team and he began extorting her in July that same year.
The legal action was filed against the B.C. government, the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Police Board, the police department, its union and four officers. However, a notice of discontinuance was filed in the case in September relating to one of the officers.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The statement of claim says B.C.’s police complaints commissioner asked the New Westminster Police Department to investigate the claims and it recommended charges against Sgt. Van Patten.
Transit Police Chief Dave Jones, who was previously at the New Westminster Police Department, told the inquest Monday that the Crown prosecution service determined it would not pursue a sex-assault charge against Sgt. Van Patten.
Jones, who conducted the Police Act investigation, said he concluded four allegations of discreditable conduct by Sgt. Van Patten were substantiated.
He said his investigation concluded in December, 2018, but because Sgt. Van Patten denied the allegations, a hearing was set for March, 2019.
He said he did not know what Constable Chan knew when she died, but that Sgt. Van Patten was ultimately dismissed from the force about a year after her death.
Sgt. Bech told the inquest Monday that he believes the biggest systemic change the department could make would be mandatory mental-health check-ins for all first responders.
He said the department has implemented mechanisms like increased peer support since Constable Chan’s death, but having health professionals check and document officers’ mental state “would be a good thing for the department.”
The inquiry is expected to conclude Tuesday and while the five-member jury can’t place blame, it can make recommendations to prevent deaths in similar circumstances.