The family of Const. Nicole Chan has filed a lawsuit claiming a combination of sexual assault, power imbalances and negligence by senior officers and the Vancouver Police Department led the junior officer to take her own life.
Chan worked with VPD, first as a jail guard and then as an officer, from about 2009 until she died by suicide in January 2019. Throughout that time, she suffered from depression and endured mental health episodes that resulted in her being put on paid leave multiple times.
Mental illness exacerbated by secret work affairs
The lawsuit claims Chan’s severe mental distress was directly connected to intimate relationships she had with two higher-ranking VPD officers, both who the lawsuit says pushed Chan to keep things secret, and one who allegedly blackmailed her into having sex.
The latter, Sgt. David Van Patten, worked in human resources for the department and was responsible for Chan’s employee file. When he became intimately involved with Chan around 2016, the lawsuit says he would have or should have known about her struggles with mental health.
The lawsuit claims the relationship grew rocky and exacerbated Chan’s struggles to the point that she planned to commit suicide. She was found and put into psychiatric care before she could do so, however.
Around that time, Van Patten became friends with another officer – Sgt. Greg McCullough – who Chan was also secretly intimate with. The lawsuit says Van Patten discovered evidence of that relationship on McCullough’s phone, filmed what he found, and then used it to blackmail the two into ending their affair (both were married to other people). Van Patten also allegedly used it to force Chan into having sex with him.
As Chan continued to experience severe mental health episodes, the lawsuit says Van Patten told her not to speak with VPD’s psychologist, as it would reveal their relationship.
“Van Patten willfully inflicted mental distress on Nicole so that he could manipulate her into sexual acts and a power-imbalanced secret intimate relationship that served to benefit him,” the notice of civil claim reads.
Chan tried to take action before her death
In 2017, Chan filed a complaint with the Vancouver Police Board against Van Patten and McCullough, and in 2018 she filed a complaint with WorkSafeBC against the board (her official employer).
The latter was concluded first and Chan was provided compensation for a mental disorder resulting from her employment and, specifically, “multiple sexual assaults.”
The former resulted in an investigation into Van Patten by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which suggested four counts of discreditable misconduct against him. As part of the process, in early 2019 Chan provided an impact statement, describing her feelings of exploitation and coercion. Three weeks later, on January 27, 2019, she hung herself.
It wasn’t until after that Van Patten was suspended and ultimately fired.
“Van Patten did not show remorse for his actions, nor insight…,” reads the notice of civil claim.
McCullough was later issued two brief suspensions, but had already resigned.
Blame extends beyond two officers
The lawsuit is suing the two officers, VPD, the Vancouver Police Board, VPD’s chief constable, two unnamed VPD employees, the Vancouver Police Union, the City of Vancouver, B.C. Attorney General David Eby and B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
It claims they all failed to keep Chan safe, by neglecting to implement or enforce any policies around intimate relationships between senior and subordinate officers and the abuse that is known to occur there. The lawsuit says the various bodies and attorney general and solicitor general also failed to recognize the increased rates of violence and discrimination women face, particularly in a male-dominated field like policing.
“The workplace culture was such that Nicole was more afraid of the negative consequences on her career from reporting the inappropriate relationships, than she was afraid of the consequences those relationships were having on her,” the claim states.
Beyond Chan’s death, the lawsuit also argues the actions of the defendants caused Chan’s mother Lai Ching Ho significant pain and suffering, as well as the loss of her daughter as a future caregiver.
None of the allegations have been proven in court, and none of the defendants have filed responses to the lawsuit as of publication.