Seattle police officer Richard F. Nelson, a patrolman with more than 21 years of experience, put a gun to his head and killed himself just hours after learning that he'd been successfully fingered for pilfering drugs by an undercover cop working surveillance.
The 50-year-old Nelson, married and the father of two teenagers, apparently flunked the so-called "integrity test" and became yet another casualty in America's War on Drugs.
"This is a tremendous tragedy," Deputy Chief Nick Metz said last evening at a news conference at police headquarters.
Nelson's unraveling began on Wednesday when the snitch cop from another agency working the Rainier Valley came up to Nelson and handed him a purse that contained cocaine. Since at least last summer, the vanquished patrolman had unknowingly been under the gun, as suspicions grew that he might be keeping for himself some of the drugs he'd seized from dealers.
So on Wednesday evening, the sting came down. Nelson was followed in his car and stopped by police just outside the city limits. There, according to Metz, the "a quantity of narcotics" was found.
He was then arrested and taken to headquarters. His gun was taken, and so was his badge. He spoke to command staff for a time and booked into King County Jail at 4:16 a.m.
About a half hour later, Nelson was turned loose without having to post bail and taken home by a high-ranking commander.
Just before 11 a.m. on Thursday, a man hiking off the John Wayne Trail near Rattlesnake Lake in the North Bend area discovered Nelson. The officer was taken to Harborview Medical Center and died that afternoon.
At the news conference Chief John Diaz said he had no choice but to open an investigation and order the integrity test.
"We are a department that holds each other accountable," Diaz said.