SEATTLE (AP) — A longtime police officer arrested in a cocaine sting shot himself to death in the Cascade Mountain foothills hours after he was released from jail, the department said Thursday.

Richard F. Nelson, a patrolman in South Seattle for the past 21 years, became the focus of an internal investigation last summer after his colleagues and a member of the public complained about his handling of evidence in drug cases, Chief John Diaz told a news conference.

The investigation culminated Wednesday in a rare sting operation known as an “integrity test.” An undercover officer from another jurisdiction, posing as someone who had just found a purse that contained cocaine, turned it in to Nelson as other investigators monitored him.

The investigators followed him as he neglected to turn the cocaine in, instead taking it with him in his personal car as he drove just past the city limits.

“This is a tremendous tragedy for this department,” said Deputy Chief Nick Metz, who added that he knew Nelson and liked him. “We have a lot of officers grieving. Despite the actions this officer took, he was a friend to many. … His family is grieving very much.”

Nelson, a 50-year-old father of two teenagers, was observed by the department’s command staff after his arrest. He was given an opportunity to speak, as well as to call his family or a lawyer. He declined, Diaz said.

He was released without bail from the King County Jail shortly before 5 a.m. Thursday. Members of the command staff drove him home.

About five hours later, he was found on John Wayne Trail, a popular hiking and biking route near North Bend, east of Seattle. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he died.

The incident was the latest setback for the department, which is in the midst of implementing reforms outlined in a Department of Justice report last month that was highly critical of the use of force by Seattle police.

Inadequate supervision and training had led officers to grab weapons such as batons and flashlights too quickly and to escalate confrontations even when arresting people for minor offenses, federal officials said.

The Department of Justice launched an investigation last spring following the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver and other reported uses of force against minority suspects. The probe was aimed at determining whether Seattle police have a pattern or practice of violating civil rights or discriminatory policing.

— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

Comments (9)
  1. FreudianSlip says:

    Mandatory drug and alcohol testing of all police department staff is a simple starter. Everyone tested routinely. No gaps to avoid detection, no outs to get by the testing procedures. And make the employees pay for their own testing as part of keeping their job. Of course unions will fight that because they think it’s fine to protect drug users.

    1. Arnold says:

      You must not like unions.
      I belong to Local 48 IBEW.
      Getting tested for every new job I take, and subject to random test.
      It sure is a slip from your point of view

  2. catwhiskers says:

    There’s no substance test for ethics and integrity.

    1. OBM says:

      Sure there is… it’s called “being a police officer.” If you do, then we know you lack the ethics and integrity to accomplish your goals by means other than brute force.

  3. Bob Bailey says:

    oh yeah like the Feds have any room too make judgements aginst another agentcy big joke

  4. Ian Michaels says:

    Was this officer presented a “solution” while he was in a vulnerable personal state? Did he have money troubles? If he had 21 years on the force and staff members thought enough of him to give him a ride home, I have real questions about whether or not he was set up for a fall. Maybe it wasn’t the goal but it sure as hell could have been the problem.

  5. beavis415 says:

    “in a Department of Justice report last month that was highly critical of the use of force by Seattle police.”

    Eric Holder & O’Bama are waaay more corrupt than a police officer with a drug problem.

    The difference is that Holder or O’Bama wouldn’t the respectable thing and shoot themselves if caught doing the same thing. They would deny everything and get lawyers.

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