WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
The family of a junior Vancouver police officer who died by suicide is suing the Vancouver Police Department two years after an investigation revealed a senior police officer had an inappropriate relationship with her.
In January 2019, Const. Nicole Chan took her own life after coming forward earlier with allegations that her superior, Sgt. David Van Patten, had an inappropriate relationship with her.
One of the charges was that Van Patten, who worked in the department’s human resources department, had allowed Chan not to disclose their relationship to anyone, including mental health professionals.
The Office of the Commissioner for Police Complaints (OPCC) subsequently investigated the matter and determined that: three allegations of abusive behavior against Van Patten were motivated.
Although Van Patten resigned before the investigation was completed, the OPCC said his record would prove he was fired and unpaid.
Now Chan’s family is suing the VPD, Van Patten and the city of Vancouver, among others. They claim, among other things, compensation for “loss of enjoyment of life”. [and] loss of guidance, care and companionship.”
In a civil suit filed in January with the BC Supreme Court, the family allege that the defendants contributed to Chan’s suicide and that the VPD had no policy to help Chan.
Defendants have not filed a defence. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Criminal prosecutions were recommended
The family lawsuit states that Chan first came into contact with Van Patten when she applied for an internal job in 2016.
According to the lawsuit, “the sergeant started behaving flirtatiously” and sent private text messages to Chan. Then they got into a relationship.
However, after their relationship “got troubled,” and after Chan discovered that Van Patten was her HR case manager, she filed a complaint with the VPD and WorkSafeBC, according to the lawsuit.
The OPCC then launched an investigation. After the nature of the allegations became known, the New Westminster Police Department launched a criminal investigation into Van Patten and suspended the OPCC investigation.
In January 2018, the NWPD recommended criminal charges against Van Patten, according to the lawsuit. However, the Public Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute the case, so that the OPCC investigation could be resumed.
Chan’s suicide came just over two weeks after she testified to the OPCC about her relationship with Van Patten.
The suit states that she “described the negative effects on her mental health” [and] her feelings of exploitation and coercion; and her fear that she would never be able to return to her career path of employable work.”
The OPCC noted in its 2020 decision that significant power imbalances were evident in Chan and Van Patten’s relationship.
“Sergeant Van Patten was in a position…to have some knowledge, and even withhold information that may have influenced decisions affecting Constable Chan,” the decision read.
The OPCC had recommended in 2020 that the Vancouver Police Board use an independent expert to review the department’s policies regarding workplace relations involving power dynamics, supervisory and leadership roles, and vulnerable workers.
The family lawsuit states that Chan was in a relationship with another officer, Sgt. Greg McCullough, starting around March 2015.
The OPCC did not name McCullough in its 2018-2019 annual report, but did call for a five-day suspension for a police officer involved in a personal, intimate relationship with a police officer under his direct supervision, whose relationship has not been disclosed. to his supervisor.
The report also stated that the same officer entered into a relationship with another police officer, knowing that that officer was in a vulnerable condition. The watchdog recommended a 10-day suspension, which should be given simultaneously.
According to the lawsuit, McCullough resigned before the OPCC investigation was completed and had “expressed remorse for his conduct”.
A few years later, while serving as an army reservist, McCullough was expelled from… the department of the then Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan in 2021 after the relationship with Chan came to light. It is unclear whether he is still employed by the Ministry of Defense.
If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s how to get help:
This guide from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health describes how to talk about suicide with someone you are concerned about.