When Vancouver Police Department Const. Nicole Chan sought compensation in July 2018, she described how she could not work due to the toll of intimate relationships with two senior officers between spring 2016 and fall 2017.
The statement to WorkSafeBC was read Wednesday at the Coroner’s inquest into Chan’s Jan. 27, 2019 suicide. Presiding coroner Susan Barth and a five-person jury are approaching the halfway point of a hearing that began Monday in Burnaby Coroners’ Court, to gather facts and make recommendations aimed at preventing a similar tragedy.
Sgt. Dave Van Patten, according to Chan’s statement, had told her on numerous occasions that they needed to have sex in order to relieve his stress, and “then, if I helped him, he knew many powerful people at VPD who could help me get ahead.”
Van Patten had access to Chan’s human resources files, including medical information. In May 2016, the statement said Chan was removed from active duty for six to seven months after sending texts to Van Patten and her partner, Const. Shawn Hardman, about feeling suicidal. She said Van Patten referred her to psychologist Dr. Randy Mackoff, but told her not to tell him about their relationship or how poorly she was really feeling, because it would impact the future of her career in the force.
While still off active duty, in about August or September 2016, the statement said Van Patten became aware Chan was having a sexual relationship with another officer and he obtained that officer’s phone under false pretences.
“[Van Patten] made a video with his phone of the messages between me and the other member, including nude photos of me,” Chan wrote. “Van Patten threatened to expose me and the other member to our spouses with the video.”
Chan said that Van Patten asked her to come to his home to discuss the video and told her he would feel better about it if they had sex. She feared he would disclose the video, so succumbed to his wishes. “I felt coerced into having sex and continuing the relationship with Van Patten.”
After returning to work on light duties, Chan said Van Patten asked her to come to his office, where they had sex on several occasions. She asked him repeatedly to delete the video from his phone. “I felt that I had to continue our sexual relationship until he deleted it.”
Chan also recounted the relationship with another senior officer, Sgt. Greg McCullough.
“McCullough knew or should have known that I was not capable of voluntarily consenting to the sexual relationship, and that it was detrimental to my mental health,” Chan wrote.
She provided WorkSafeBC an email that McCullough sent to her and another woman on April 30, 2018.
“Nicole, I only wanted to help you get better and instead have done the opposite,” said the McCullough email. “We became emotionally and then physically involved, I should have known better than to let this happen, when what you needed most of all, was a true friend.”
Chan was of the belief that McCullough was the one person who understood what she was going through.
“He had experienced dealing with depression, had experienced suicidal thoughts, and I believed he had significant military training, dealing with PTSD and depression. I thought I could trust him because of this. And because he was my supervisor, I had confided in McCullough, about having sex with Van Patten. And McCullough told me that he did not think the situation with Van Patten was healthy for me.”
Neither McCullough nor Van Patten are scheduled to testify, despite being disciplined for their relationships with Chan, their subordinate. The VPD fired Van Patten in January 2020 after an Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner investigation. McCullough was suspended, but retired in 2018.
Psychologists and psychiatrists who treated Chan testified Wednesday that she was estranged from her mother and that her father died when she was 19.
The relationships with McCullough and Van Patten worsened her depression and anxiety to the point where she was often suicidal. She was tearful and angry at times during counselling sessions, because she was unable to work. Meanwhile, the two senior officers carried on in their jobs without any accountability.
The hearing continues Thursday.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre.