4 men testify about sexual abuse by former Saint John police officer Kenneth Estabrooks

·5 min read
Lawyers for Bobby Hayes and class-action members leave the Saint John courthouse on a break. Celeste Poltak is second from left and John McKiggan is at far right.  (Graham Thompson/CBC News - image credit)
Lawyers for Bobby Hayes and class-action members leave the Saint John courthouse on a break. Celeste Poltak is second from left and John McKiggan is at far right. (Graham Thompson/CBC News - image credit)

Four men between the ages of 58 and 66 have now described to a judge how they were terrorized as children by former Saint John police officer Kenneth Estabrooks, who died in 2005.

All four witnesses described a similar predatory pattern.

Estabrooks picked them up in his police car, drove them to secluded places such as Tin Can Beach and then sexually abused them while he wore his police uniform, they said.

Three witnesses said they were about 10 years old when the abuse began. A fourth witness said he was only eight when it happened.

The evidence is part of a class-action lawsuit filed against the City of Saint John. It claims the city is vicariously liable for the harm caused by Estabrooks when he was a police officer between 1953 and 1975.

Justice William Grant began hearing the case on Monday.

The lawsuit also claims the city was liable and negligent for failing to stop Estabrooks after he admitted to having sexual relations with two teenage males. After that admission, Estabrooks was transferred from the police department to the municipal works department where he remained employed until his retirement in 1983.

Lead plaintiff Bobby Hayes has testified that Estabrooks continued to prey on people while he was on his job in the city garage. Hayes said he saw Estabrooks sexually assault younger labourers around him.

Hayes is the only witness who can be identified. Grant has ordered a publication ban that applies to the identities of all other class-action members.

Hayes, 62, was the first to testify when the civil trial got underway.

The witness who followed Hayes was a 66-year-old man who remembered being picked up by Estabrooks in his squad car when he was eight years old and almost too short to see out the front window.

He said he remembered Estabrooks gesturing to him to get into the front seat and when he complied, Estabrooks drove around and touched the boy's leg.

He said Estabrooks had asked him where he lived but he refused to tell the truth. He said he was afraid that his parents would have jumped to the wrong conclusion if they saw their son in a police car.

"My parents would have beat me," said the man.

He said Estabrooks picked him up at least twice and on one occasion, Estabrooks exposed himself.

Witness describes 1st encounter

A third witness, 58, testified Tuesday that he had been living in the city's south end when Estabrooks first pulled up to him in his police car.

The man said he was about age 10 and was into cars, which was why he had been admiring a Pontiac GTO. He said  Estabrooks accused him of wanting to steal the car stereo and told him to get into his police vehicle.

He said Estabrooks put his hand on his leg but then drove him home without further incident.

But the witness said he was so rattled by being picked up by a police officer and accused of stealing, he didn't play outside for a couple of days.

When he thought it had blown over, he said, he went back out on the streets, and that's where Estabrooks found him again.

"He remembered my name," said the man.

CBC
CBC

This time, he said, Estabrooks took him down to Tin Can Beach and "did some bad things to me."

"He placed his gun on the dash," said the man, who then described how Estabrooks sexually abused him.

He said the incidents continued over the span of about two years.

He did tell his mother, but she said the police would "not want to hear that" and advised him next time to run.

He said he also told his father, who then beat him for even speaking about it.

Plaintiffs' lawyer John McKiggan asked the man why he thought Estabrooks stopped abusing him after two years.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

According to the timeline established by the man's testimony, the abuse would have stopped around 1975.

"I don't know why," the man answered. "I didn't see him after that."

Victim has lost parents in accident

A fourth witness, age 66,  said he was abused by Estabrooks less than two years after his parents died in an accident involving a pulp truck.

He said Estabrooks picked him up in his police car and did things that the man described as degrading.

At times, the witness became quietly distraught and had trouble continuing with his testimony. He said Estabrooks was always chasing kids in his police car.

"He was always in pursuit of you … because he wanted other things," said the man.

City is responsible, plaintiffs' say

Plaintiffs' lawyer Celeste Poltak said that at all material times between 1953 and 1983, Estabrooks was an employee of the city.

She said the city paid the members of the police force, managed their promotions, determined hours of duty and equipped them with vehicles and uniforms and determined their fitness for duty.

She said Estabrooks abused his position of authority and took advantage of his police car, gun, uniform and badge to prey upon multiple children over decades.

"And when a two-decades sergeant was transferred to the tire shop, no one from the city asked why," said Poltak.

Graham Thompson/CBC News
Graham Thompson/CBC News

Donald Keenan, a lawyer representing the City of Saint John, questioned the second witness on his recollection of when his family had moved from MacLaren Boulevard in Saint John's north end to Brittain Street in the south end. The man said he couldn't be sure if it was 1966 or 1967.

On direct examination the man did seem more certain about other details. For example, he said Estabrooks had very bad body odour, and in black pants, black shoes and black hat, he seemed like a soldier.

It was "intimidating," he said.

The trial, which had been scheduled to take 10 days, may wrap up sooner.

Some testimony from class-action members has been submitted in the form of documentation to the judge. In other words, those witnesses will not be called to give verbal testimony.

The court was also informed that one witness died over the weekend.

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