Police Detail Investigation Which Led to Officer's Drug Arrest

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee January 5, 2012

Seattle Police Department officials said Thursday evening that concerns about an officer's handling of drug evidence and rumors on the street in the South Precinct led police to open an internal investigation and the arrest of Officer Rick Nelson, who fatally shot himself Thursday following his arrest.

According to department officials, earlier this summer, police officers raised concerns to their chain of command that Nelson, a 21-year veteran South Precinct officer, might have been mishandling drug evidence.

"They believed he showed an inordinate interest in drug evidence that was being brought in," SPD Chief John Diaz said at a press conference Thursday. "It was a feeling, it was a hunch, and I can't let those things go."

Detectives in the department's intelligence unit began investigating Nelson, but apparently had little to go on other than suspicions and rumors on the streets of the South Precinct until the case culminated Wednesday evening in what department officials called an "integrity test."

According to SPD, an undercover officer from another police agency approached Nelson while he was on solo patrol in the Rainier Valley and handed him a bag filled with cocaine, which the undercover officer said they had found on the street.

Instead of turning the drugs in and filing a "found narcotics" report, as is department policy, Nelson finished his shift and left the precinct, police say.

Officers later pulled Nelson over outside of Seattle and found the cocaine in his car. Police took Nelson's badge and gun, and booked him into the King County Jail for about a half hour between 4 am and 5 am. A member of the department's command staff then took him home, according to SPD.

This morning, around 11 am, a jogger found Nelson on a trail near North Bend, where he had apparently shot himself. He died later in the day at Harborview.

Police say they're now reviewing other narcotics cases Nelson was involved in.

While police haven't explicitly said what Nelson was doing with the drugs he took, or is suspected of taking, a statement from the department implies he was an addict. "This is just one more example of the sorrow and devastation caused by drug addiction," the statement read.


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