Victim describes effect of abuse by police officer as lawsuit against Saint John begins

·6 min read
Bobby Hayes says former Saint John police officer Kenneth Estabrooks rounded up youth in his police car and raped them at Tin Can Beach. (Graham Thompson/CBC News - image credit)
Bobby Hayes says former Saint John police officer Kenneth Estabrooks rounded up youth in his police car and raped them at Tin Can Beach. (Graham Thompson/CBC News - image credit)

Bobby Hayes, the representative plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the City of Saint John, testified Monday that former police officer Kenneth Estabrooks ruined his life.

Hayes, 62, said he was 10 or 11 years old when Estabrooks first ordered him into his police cat, then drove him to Tin Can Beach and sexually assaulted him in the front seat of his police vehicle.

Hayes became emotional describing the assault and how ashamed he felt afterward.

He said Estabrooks had threatened to kill his mother and father with his police gun, if Hayes dared to tell anyone about the incident.

WATCH | 'He stepped out from behind the corner and grabbed you': Hayes describes how Estabrooks targeted children:

Estabrooks assaulted him as many as 10 times over the next few years. The assaults stopped when Hayes was about 13 years old and was bigger and fast enough to get away, he said.

Hayes said he was never the same. He had difficulty concentrating in school and there was such a drastic change in his behaviour, his mother took him to a therapist.

"I couldn't study. I couldn't finish anything," said Hayes, who told the court he only got to Grade 8.

"And I hated and despised policemen."

Hayes began giving testimony after opening arguments from lawyer Celeste Poltak.

She argued that Estabrooks, at all material times, was an employee of the city.

She said it was the city that negotiated contracts with the police union and determined wages, paid wages and medical benefits, and overtime pay. She said the city also determined hours of duty, class of job positions, handled grievances and provided equipment, vehicles and uniforms.

She said Estabrooks used his power of authority as a police officer to prey upon and intimidate children. He assaulted youth while wearing a police uniform and driving a police car, she said.

"He had a police badge and a police gun," she said.

She said the city also failed in its duty to protect the public when city staff failed to ask questions about why a sergeant, after two decades of service in the police department, was transferred to the city works department in 1975.

History of abuse

Hayes is suing the City of Saint John for vicarious liability for the damage and suffering he says Estabrooks inflicted on dozens — if not hundreds — of children and teens between 1953 and 1983.

Hayes, 62, is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit that starts Monday morning being heard by Justice William Grant in the Court of Queen's Bench. It's scheduled to last 10 days.

"We're looking for an ending — not just for myself but for the rest of the victims," Hayes said in an interview before the trial began. He is well known in Saint John for leading the non-profit Joshua Group, which provides food, clothing and social activities for children at risk.

"We want to have this finished and get on with our lives."

The questions before the court begin with whether the city owed a fiduciary duty to the class action members to protect them from harm perpetrated by Estabrooks.

And if the city did owe a duty of care, did it fail in that duty.

If the answers are yes, the court will then consider whether the class members are entitled to an award of punitive damages and if so, in what amount.

In its statement of defence, the city denied any liability.

CBC News asked to speak to Donna Reardon, the current mayor, or to any city councillors about the case. No one from the city was made available for an interview.

Nor did the city provide an update on the status or cost of the investigation that council authorized in 2012.

That's when the city hired private investigator David Perry to try to track down possible victims.

In 2016, CBC News reported that the cost of that investigation had reached $446,000 and Perry was reporting that as many as 263 youths may have been sexually abused by Estabrooks over a three-decade period.

CBC
CBC

Hayes's lawyer, John McKiggan, said Perry will be called as a witness to talk about the circumstances of his hiring, what he was asked to do, and why he was asked to do it.

"Why would the city go to the huge expense and effort of tracking down all of these people if they were going to say, 'We have no responsibility to you,'" McKiggan said.

"They made them dig up these horrible, painful memories. They encouraged people to come forward and speak about the worst possible experiences they've ever had in their life, and then they say to them, 'Thanks very much. Now go away. We have no responsibility to you.'"

McKiggan said he expects the city will argue, among other things, that prior to 1975, police officers were not employees of the city and that police departments operated as independent entities. Therefore, the city is taking the position that it is not responsible for anything that Estabrooks did.

The police department was originally named in the suit but was dropped, and the city is now the only defendant.

The city tried but failed to block the class action lawsuit, which was certified by Justice Grant in 2017.

In 2018, the certification was upheld in the New Brunswick Court of Appeal and the following year, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the city's application for leave to appeal.

Estabrooks's history

In 1975, two teenagers complained that they had been sexually assaulted by Estabrooks.

Estabrooks signed a statement admitting to the allegations, but the Saint John police elected not to charge him.

Instead, Estabrooks was transferred to the Saint John city works department, where he continued to work until 1983.

Hayes said that after Estabrooks was transferred to the city garage, the abuse continued for Hayes and other victims who also worked for the department.

CBC
CBC

"I met him again when I was a little older, maybe around 17 or 18 years old," Hayes said.

"We went into the tire shop to work … and you can imagine the thoughts going through your head."

Hayes said Estabrooks was able to manipulate older youth by bribing them with money or alcohol or through intimidation.

"He was scary. He was a big boy. And when he got a hold of you, we were scared."

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

In 1999, Estabrooks was charged with four counts of indecent assault against different male persons, one charge of indecent assault against a female person, and one charge of anal intercourse with a male person.

He was acquitted on one of the counts of indecent assault against a male person and the charge of having anal intercourse. On the other four counts, Estabrooks was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Estabrooks died in 2005, but Hayes said he still has nightmares about the years when he says Estabrooks roamed the streets of Saint John in his police car or on foot, looking for victims.

"We were kids," Hayes said. "Kids playing baseball marble, riding bikes, playing baseball, playing tag where kids run around the neighbourhood."

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