Const. Nicole Chan reported sex assault and extortion by VPD sergeant before her death, inquest hears

Const. Nicole Chan's 2019 death is the subject of an ongoing coroner's inquest. (Submitted by VPD - image credit)
Const. Nicole Chan's 2019 death is the subject of an ongoing coroner's inquest. (Submitted by VPD - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A senior Vancouver police officer who spoke with Const. Nicole Chan in the last hours of her life testified Monday that Chan was deeply frustrated about the outcome of her complaints alleging sexual assault and coercion by a superior.

Supt. Shelley Horne took the stand on the first day of the coroner's inquest into Chan's death by suicide on Jan. 27, 2019, and described two encounters she had with the junior officer in her role in human resources with the Vancouver Police Department.

The first time Horne met with Chan was in October 2017, when Chan reported allegations of sexual misconduct by then-sergeant David Van Patten. The two had previously been in a consensual relationship, Horne said.

"There were concerns that she had raised that she had been manipulated or coerced into having sex with him," Horne told the coroner's jury.

Chan alleged that Van Patten had found intimate images and texts related to her on another officer's phone and was threatening to share them with her then-husband and the other officer's spouse and told her she needed to have sex with him.

Chan said she felt "disgusted" at the prospect but submitted to sex because she didn't believe she had any other option, Horne testified.

"She indicated to me that she never really wanted to have sex with him after that night but that she kept having sex with him," Horne said.

Those allegations led to a criminal investigation into potential sexual assault and extortion charges conducted by the New Westminster Police Department. A report was forwarded to Crown prosecutors, but charges were not approved, the inquest heard.

'She felt it was unfair'

Horne testified that the next time she met Chan was the night of Jan. 26, 2019, at Vancouver General Hospital, after Chan had been detained under the Mental Health Act.

Horne described Chan as calm and articulate but frustrated by a Police Act investigation into Van Patten's actions.

"She felt it was unfair that she was unable to work, and Dave Van Patten kept his job," Horne said.

The hospital ultimately decided to release Chan that night, and Horne and another officer dropped her off at home after midnight, the jury heard.

Horne said she planned to check in with Chan again the next morning. Instead, she received a call informing her that Chan had died by suicide at age 30.

Van Patten was dismissed by the VPD after an investigation overseen by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner substantiated three allegations of discreditable conduct, finding that Van Patten was in an inappropriate relationship with Chan while also serving as a human resources officer.

A second officer, former sergeant Greg McCullough, was also disciplined for failing to disclose an intimate relationship with Nicole Chan, who was under his direct supervision.

Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC

The inquest began Monday morning with testimony from Chan's older sister Jennifer Chan, who said becoming a police officer was Nicole Chan's longtime dream.

"She wanted to do right in the world," Jennifer Chan said of her sister.

But in the final months of her life, Nicole Chan was off work and had become increasingly depressed.

Jennifer Chan described her younger sibling's outlook on life at that point as a "roller coaster" as she considered whether she still had a future in the Vancouver Police Department.

"There were points where she felt like she could go back," Jennifer Chan said.

"There were definitely times where it felt like there was nowhere she could go. … Toward the end, she was feeling more hopeless."

'Flashbacks of the coercion'

During her testimony, Jennifer Chan summarized a victim impact statement her sister completed about her experiences with Van Patten.

"She felt unsafe going into people's homes," Jennifer Chan told the jury as she read the statement.

"She believes that it stems from the sexual assault inside David's apartment. … She keeps getting flashbacks of the coercion."

Two officers who worked in human resources with the VPD also testified about Nicole Chan's policing career on Monday.

The jury heard that Chan had survived previous suicide attempts and had been placed on leave in the past after she expressed suicidal thoughts to a supervisor.

At the same time, evidence was presented that in her most recent performance evaluations, Chan was rated as exceeding expectations and had met all the requirements for incremental promotion to first-class constable.

The inquest continues on Tuesday and is expected to last six days. Van Patten and McCullough are not scheduled to testify.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.