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To the ever growing list of bad headlines the Seattle Police Department has been on the receiving end of lately, add this one. A veteran cop has now been accused of stealing rocks of crack cocaine from a drug investigation. His accuser? Another Seattle cop.
According to The Seattle TImes, officer Richard F. Nelson, 50, was booked early this morning on suspicion of a drug offense. The inquiry began when another officer allegedly witnessed Nelson pilfering crack rocks that were part of a drug investigation. That same officer also reportedly confronted both Nelson and their bosses months ago ("thin blue line" crossed; hallelujah), and said they suspected that Nelson was stealing in order to use the drugs himself.
Nelson has been with the department since 1990. Police Chief John Diaz will be making himself available to the media sometime later today, purportedly to give the department's side of things.
While allegations of a cop's drug habit might, at first blush, seem like just about the worst thing that could happen to a force so recently reamed by the Department of Justice, they pale in comparison to the institutional problems facing Seattle police.
City Attorney Pete Holmes, with what would be safely assumed is the tacit support, if not downright direction from, SPD, is now suing a lawyer who had the gall to make a public records request. The lawyer wants dash-cam videos of his clients' arrests. Holmes says he's going before the court to seek "guidance."
Yet conveniently, it might take Holmes a while to get guided. Or, to use Rick Anderson's words, "should Holmes prevail, it would take at least three years to obtain the vids -- just when the statute of limitations for lawsuits against SPD runs out and when the department routinely erases stored videos."
There might be more blatant examples of a bureaucrat playing keep away in an attempt to run out the clock. But Holmes, a smart man making the argument that he's too dense to understand the laws he's paid to interpret, is making it hard to think of anyone who might serve as competition.
Kind of makes a few crack rocks seem insignificant, no?
UPDATE: Godawful news. Nelson was reportedly found near North Bend with a gunshot wound to the head only hours after his arrest.
He's now at Harborview Medical Center, where his condition is listed as grave.
On January 5th, the King County Sheriff's Office notified the Seattle Police Department that they had located an injured adult man off of the John Wayne Trail in the 1800 block of Cedar Falls Road NE near Rattlesnake Lake. The man had suffered what appeared to be a self inflicted gun-shot wound. He was transported to Harborview Medical Center for emergency treatment. He has since died from his injuries.One last note. That headline was originally written in the context that Nelson's arrest didn't matter relative to the much larger, much more immovable institutional problems within the department. Lest anyone think otherwise, his suicide very much does matter, at least to those who knew and cared for him, and even to some of those who have only just now been made aware of his existence.
That man has been identified as Seattle Police Officer Richard (Rick) F. Nelson, age 50. Nelson is married and a father of two teenage children. Nelson was hired in September of 1990 and spent his entire career serving in South Seattle as a patrol officer.
The context that caused this tragedy to unfold is as follows:
In July of 2011, South Precinct patrol officers alerted their supervisors that they had concerns about Officer Nelson's handling of drug evidence seized during the course of routine police work. These concerns triggered an internal criminal investigation.
As the investigation proceeded, there was no proof of misconduct, only suspicion. Additionally, a community member expressed non-specific concerns regarding Officer Nelson that implied he was involved in misconduct.
On January 4th, Seattle Police utilized an undercover law enforcement officer from another agency in an effort to gauge whether or not Officer Nelson was handling evidence properly.
During the course of his shift, Officer Nelson took custody of drugs. Typically, this would result in a "Found Narcotics" report and the drugs would be placed into evidence. Seattle Police investigators waited for the officer to complete his shift and then checked to see if the drugs had been properly submitted.
They were not. Seattle Police officers conducted a traffic stop on the officer while he was driving home and placed him under arrest. During a search incident to arrest, Officers discovered that Nelson had concealed drugs on his person. Nelson was placed under arrest and relieved of duty. His gun and badge were seized.
Commanders spoke to Nelson in person and offered a number of referral options for counseling. At 4:16 a.m., Nelson was booked into King County Jail for Investigation of Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act (felony drug possession) and was later released on his own recognizance at 4:48 a.m. Nelson wasn't afforded any more lenient or severe treatment because of his status as a police officer. To be released from custody is normal for first time drug offenders and is consistent with the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
Seattle Police investigators have been working closely and in consultation with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office on this case.
At 10:56 a.m., KCSO deputies responded to a report from a hiker near Rattlesnake Lake of the injured man. Deputies discovered what appeared to be Nelson's truck, with Nelson about 100 yards away.
This is just one more example of the sorrow and devastation caused by drug addiction.
The Seattle Police Department remains committed to providing dedicated and professional police services by fighting crime, reducing fear and building community.