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Arrest and suicide of Seattle Police officer

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.

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.