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VPD Const. Nicole Chan pleaded for 'justice' in victim statement before suicide

BURNABY, B.C. — In the weeks before Vancouver police Const. Nicole Chan died by suicide, she detailed her anguish that a senior officer had "taken advantage" of her in an “imbalance of power" while she was severely depressed.
Jennifer Chan, front left, the sister of late Vancouver Police Const. Nicole Chan, who died by suicide in 2019, leaves a coroner's inquest, in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

BURNABY, B.C. — In the weeks before Vancouver police Const. Nicole Chan died by suicide, she detailed her anguish that a senior officer had "taken advantage" of her in an “imbalance of power" while she was severely depressed.

"If I brought this incident upon myself, I would be accountable for everything that happened. But I was sick and taken advantage of by a senior officer handling my file," Chan wrote in a victim impact statement about Sgt. David Van Patten, dated Jan. 7, 2019.

The statement was released Tuesday on the second day of a coroner's inquest into Chan's death. 

The letter sent to New Westminster police, who were investigating allegations against Van Patten, says she was sexually assaulted by him in his apartment.

Her sister told the inquest Monday that Van Patten was "blackmailing" Chan to continue a sexual relationship.

In the statement, Chan said she was already suffering from mental health challenges, but the sexual assault by Van Patten in his home aggravated her condition, stalled her career and affected her ability to maintain relationships.

"This incident has changed who I am as a person," the statement said. "I was betrayed, coerced and taken advantage of by somebody whom I respected and looked up to."

Chan wrote that she hoped it was clear "that Dave (Van Patten) is not someone who should have the privilege of continuing as a police officer."

"I am only one person, but this has ruined my personal and professional life. Please help me be a survivor and not another victim. I am suffering but I still have the will to fight for this."

She concluded her statement with a plea to "help me get some justice."

"They say the world is not fair, but as officers, isn't justice what we fight for?"

Chan, who was on stress leave at the time, died by suicide three weeks later on Jan. 27, 2019.

Sgt. Cindy Vance, a former VPD human resources officer, told the coroner's inquest Tuesday that Chan had a history of mental health issues and potential suicide attempts before inappropriate relationships with two senior officers, including Van Patten.

During her hiring process, Chan disclosed that she had consumed 30 to 40 Tylenol in 2006, when she was 17 years old, Vance said.

Vance also testified about a 2012 car crash in Port Moody, B.C., that "triggered a concern that Ms. Chan might be suicidal." It resulted in her being arrested and brought to a hospital under the Mental Health Act, Vance said.

She was also asked about another incident, which took place in June 2016, where Chan was identified as a potential missing person, and was later found at a Washington motel.

Randy Mackoff, a clinical psychologist for the department, told the inquest on Tuesday that on May 30, 2016, Chan chronicled her past suicide attempts to him.

"(She) told me that she tried to kill herself in high school, and tried to kill herself just before the academy, and she tried to kill herself by crashing a car two years before, after a breakup of a boyfriend," he testified. 

But, he noted, she said she "absolutely" had no thoughts of suicide at that time and expressed that she wanted to join the department's Emergency Response Team. 

Mackoff said Chan never disclosed to him any misconduct by other police officers in the department. Instead, he said, the information about the misconduct came "primarily from press reports."

"I'm actually troubled that she did not feel that she could, or for whatever reason she did not (disclose) because that is something that would have needed to be reported to professional standards to be able to take the appropriate actions," he said.

A civil lawsuit filed on behalf of her family last year says that around January 2016, Chan approached Van Patten to "help her in her pursuit" of that new position and claims he began extorting her around July that same year.

Supt. Shelley Horne told the inquest Monday that she met Chan in October 2017, when she worked in the sex crimes unit and was tasked with interviewing Chan about claims she made against Van Patten.

Horne, who worked in the sex crimes unit, said Chan told her that Van Patten had taken a screen recording of another member's phone and threatened to send the video to Chan's then-husband. Horne did not explain the contents of the video at the inquest.

Chan was distressed about the recording and went to Van Patten's apartment in New Westminster to talk to him about it, Horne testified. 

"When she got there, she said Dave told her that he needed to feel close to her and that they needed to have sex," Horne told the inquest. "So, Nicole told me that she had sex with him, but that she really felt disgusted by it, but felt that she had no real option but to do that."

Horne said Chan told her that she was worried about Van Patten's ability to harm her career, so they continued the sexual relationship.

Noah Susswein, a registered psychologist who saw Chan as a patient for about two years, told the inquiry that she was coping with increased post-traumatic stress symptoms after making the complaints against Van Patten. He said she felt rejected and criticized by co-workers.

"Now I feel incapable of working for VPD," he said Tuesday, quoting Chan from his written notes.

In his last session with Chan on Dec. 21, 2018, Susswein said she was happy that the complaints were being taken seriously but was "outraged" Van Patten hadn't been fired.

He said she expressed that if he had been fired, "that might change her views on returning to the VPD."

The family's civil lawsuit 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 Van Patten. 

The lawsuit says the Crown prosecution service later said it wouldn't pursue a charge, but Van Patten was dismissed from the force about a year after Chan's death.

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.

The Canadian Press