Police identify Seattle officer in drug case as Issaquah resident

January 10, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Officials said a Seattle police officer arrested in a drug investigation early Jan. 5 died at a Seattle hospital hours later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Seattle police said Richard F. Nelson, 50, of Issaquah, was suspected of using crack cocaine, possibly drugs stolen from case evidence. Nelson died at Harborview Medical Center late the afternoon of Jan. 5.

Police booked Nelson into the King County Jail just after 4 a.m. that day and released on him on personal recognizance about 30 minutes later — a normal procedure for first-time drug offenders in King County.

At about 11 a.m., as Seattle Police Chief John Diaz prepared to address journalists about the case, Eastside Fire & Rescue crews responded to a report of a man with a gunshot wound near a North Bend-area trailhead.

Crews responded to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and rushed the man to Seattle for treatment.

Seattle police officials said Nelson left behind a wife and two teenage children. He joined the force in September 1990 and spent his entire career serving as a patrol officer in South Seattle.

In July 2011, South Precinct patrol officers alerted supervisors to concerns about Nelson’s handling of drug evidence. The report, in turn, triggered a department-led internal criminal investigation. In addition, a community member expressed nonspecific concerns regarding Nelson and implied he had been involved in misconduct.

The day before the shooting, Seattle police enlisted an undercover officer from another law enforcement agency to determine whether Nelson handled evidence properly.

Police said Nelson took custody of drugs during the course of his shift. Typically, taking custody should result in a found narcotics report and placing the drugs into evidence. Investigators waited for Nelson to complete his shift and then checked to see if the drugs had been properly submitted. Police realized they had not.

Police stopped Nelson as he drove home and arrested him. During a search, officers discovered that he had concealed drugs on his body. Police arrested him, relieved him of duty, and seized his gun and badge.

Commanders spoke to Nelson in person and offered a number of referral options for counseling. The agency said he did not receive more lenient or severe treatment due to his status as a police officer.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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