Friends: Rick Nelson was a good officer, death was a shock

January 10, 2012

By Kathleen R. Merrill

People who were close to Rick Nelson say the information given out by the Seattle Police Department doesn’t match the loyal, dependable and intelligent man they know and loved.

Richard F. Nelson

Friends described Nelson, 50, of Issaquah, as a devoted husband to his wife Cathi and a loving father to his teenage daughters Kristine and Kelly.

“He was a hero to all of us. He would never think twice about dropping everything to help anyone at any time. He was that kind of a guy,” Michael Hatzakis, a close friend of Nelson’s for the past five years, said.

Nelson was a passionate police officer who spent 21 years with the department, most of them training a large number of officers in the South Seattle precinct.

“He dedicated his entire 21 years to making the Rainier Valley a better, cleaner place,” said another friend, Charles Merrin, who had known him for about five years.

“He was focused on keeping the kids in the neighborhood out of trouble,” he added. “He was very intense, had very strong opinions, was extremely loyal and extremely dedicated.”

Nelson’s friends are having a hard time with the loss.

“We’re all kind of in shock, we were together days before this happened,” Hatzakis said, adding that Nelson’s wife is “in the same state.”

“The girls are obviously devastated. The father they knew that he was and what they’re saying about him don’t match,” Merrin said. “This situation seems so impossible and so unlikely. We’re trying to put the conflicting facts with the Rick we knew. We’re struggling to do that.”

‘He would do anything for you’

Nelson was a true family man in every sense of the word, his friends said.

“Rick was one of these guys that his family was everything to him. He took his family every summer to Chicago to visit his mother and his family, every winter break he took his family skiing in Canada, he took his dog for walks,” Merrin said.

Nelson’s yellow Lab, Dylan, is “probably as enthusiastic as Rick was,” Merrin added with a laugh.

“He was one of these guys that once he decided he was your friend, he would do anything for you,” he continued. “If you needed help to move, if you needed to tear a wall out of your bathroom, if you needed dropped off at the airport, he’d be there.”

Michael Longo, who lives in the Lakemont area, said he and Nelson had an immediate connection with each other and bonded over their love of sports, the outdoors, family and spending time together, on family ski trips and vacations, at get-togethers and barbecues. They knew each other for about five years.

“You could always count on Rick to do the right thing and he was there if you needed him, even if you didn’t ask,” he said.

No warning signs

Mariana Quarnstrom, chairwoman of the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council for 10 years up until two years ago, said she didn’t see any warning signs from Nelson.

“I saw nothing that gave me any clue that things were not all right with him,” she said. “I don’t know where he made that wrong turn. I find it really hard to understand. I think he felt he had no way out. He was not the type I would ever think of being a suicide risk.”

Longo echoed that feeling.

“The Rick Nelson that I know would have nothing to do with drugs,” he said. “No one that knew him, whether it be family, friends or co-workers, suspected he was having serious issues or problems. He was acting like himself, certainly not someone in trouble.”

Quarnstrom and Nelson knew each other for about 10 years, and Nelson, who she called “Ricky” was “a very ethical officer” who focused on helping others, she said.

“He was a fun guy, he was a really nice guy and loyal to you. If he was your friend, he was the most loyal friend you could have,” she added. “He was very well liked by his fellow officers.”

‘A great mentor’

Nelson was born Jan. 13, 1961, in Chicago. The youngest of seven children was an avid Chicago sports fan who had a particular love for the Blackhawks.

After high school, he spent time working on fish processing vessels in Alaska, and then enlisted in the United States Navy. He was honorably discharged six years later.

One of his brothers lived in Seattle and Nelson, who saw an advertisement for police officers, moved to the area and went through training for the job. He was sworn in Sept. 5, 1990. During his career, he served as a mounted officer and a bicycle officer.

As a field training officer, “he had new officers do ridealongs with him and he would teach them the realities of being a police officer,” Merrin said. “He would cook Thanksgiving dinners for the squad. He was an integral part of the force. He was a great mentor to the young officers.

“He took a very proactive approach to police work,” he added. “His strategy was knowing who the players were, both good and bad, and getting involved before things got out of control.”

That made him effective in his job, Hatzakis said.

“He was an intensely loyal person, being a police officer meant everything to him,” he said. “He believed strongly in his role as a police officer, doing his job right, in being on the street developing community and building relationships with people. He believed in trying to prevent crime, not just respond to it.”

‘A good man’

But family was most important, his friends agreed.

“He loved cooking, and made most of the meals for the family,” Longo said. “He typically worked a 10 to 8 shift, and the family would wait for him to come home and cook dinner.”

Nelson was famous for his pizza, a family tradition they had every Christmas, Longo said.

“I wish you could’ve known Rick. He always had a joke,” Merrin said wistfully. “Rick was truly a fantastic father to his girls, the loyal friend, the father that would do anything for his kids.”

“This was a good man and he touched the lives of so many different people in a positive way,” Longo said. “He was loved by all those that got to know him.”

Quarnstrom said she is deeply disappointed with how the Seattle Police Department has handled any issues Nelson may have had, and his death.

“I think the department handled it very poorly for one,” she said. “This thing has totally scarred his family. The department has had no regard for his family.”

Kathleen R. Merrill: 392-6434, ext. 227, or Comment at

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5 Responses to “Friends: Rick Nelson was a good officer, death was a shock”

  1. Jackie Sheheen on January 11th, 2012 8:47 am

    Thankyou for writing such a beautiful article! I am a member of the Seattle Police family and I did not have the privelige to know Rick Nelson personally. It is refreshing to see the media write this type of article. You are truly an example of the type of writing we need!

  2. Susan on January 11th, 2012 2:28 pm

    My name is Susan Sparrey Fischer. Rick and I grew up in the same town, South Holland IL. I met Rick when I was 17 yrs old and we became very good friends. This article depicts exactly the kind of human being he was. We had lost touch with each other in the past decade, though I did speak briefly with him this past October. My heart aches terribly for Cathi and his beautiful daughters. He was a good friend, a good person and I will miss him dearly

  3. Michele C. Shelhorse on January 13th, 2012 9:58 am

    People make mistakes and sometimes fall from Grace. I hope that people will support his family and help them to get back on thier feet again.

  4. S. Parker on January 13th, 2012 2:13 pm

    Ms. Merrill,

    today would have been Rick’s birthday and I reread your article just now because I didn’t have time to appreciate it when it first appeared. I have known Rick and worked with and along side him for 10 years and I just wanted to let you know that your piece is spot on. In losing Rick we have lost a brother and a dear friend. It will be a long time before I can put aside the sadness and the memories of the good times with Rick prevail again. I keep hearing his voice in the precinct and expect him to walk around the corner with his usual swagger and racket any minute now.
    I can also tell you that I will probably never lose the anger over the callous disregard with which this situation has been handled. Rick deserved better.

    Ms. Merrill – thank you so much for respectful article. Keep up the good work. God bless.

  5. Candace McCutcheon on January 14th, 2012 9:36 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about this terrible loss. My family went through the same thing when my brother shot himself on the front lawn of our family home in 1995. My heart goes out to Officer Nelson’s family. It’s so tragic because suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The profound grief does get better with time so I hope his family is able to get through this most difficult period.

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