A city’s shame: uncovering long-held secrets
Video: A 16×9 investigation into a Saint John police officer’s decades of child sex abuse. Jennifer Tryon has the story.
David Perry has been investigating sex crimes for more than three decades, first as a Toronto Police officer, now as a private investigator. Even with all that experience, watching and listening as victims re-live childhood sexual abuse never gets easier.
“The one thing that never changes for me is that every time I do one of these investigations I’m always….you know, shocked about the extent of trauma that people endure for so many years. These people have suffered tremendously as a result of what happened to them.”
Last August, the city of Saint John, New Brunswick announced it had hired Perry to investigate the extent of sexual abuses committed by former police officer Kenneth Estabrooks. Estabrooks preyed on children from Saint John’s poverty-stricken South End for at least 25 years. His choice of neighbourhoods was no accident.
“He would know that there was a lot of poverty and some alcoholism and some fatherless homes with very large families and therefore lots of victims. Pedophiles generally target vulnerable kids that they know don’t have somewhere to turn and somewhere to report. He simply, in the strongest terms, used his authority to falsely arrest, abduct, and confine people. And then sexually abuse them. That’s what he did.”
Read more: Timeline of a city’s shame
Perry and his team have been investigating for more than a year. They have uncovered dozens of victims, and that number is still growing.
“You know I’ve sat in front of so many of these, mostly men, and heard these horrific stories….so you don’t just do an interview and hand them over to counsellors. It’s not that easy. You become that first person that they disclose to. That’s a bond that’s there for good.”
Perry was hired to find all the victims and gain their trust, with the goal of offering them counselling, paid for by the city. In the sad history of the Estabrooks case, it’s the first effort undertaken to uncover the extent of the abuse.
But there were earlier opportunities.
In 1975, two boys filed a complaint alleging Estabrooks had sexually assaulted them. The Police Chief of the day, Eric Ferguson, ordered an investigation, which resulted in Estabrooks being caught with a boy in a police cruiser. He confessed, but for reasons unknown, Estabrooks was quietly transferred into a city works job.
In 1997, as a result of new victims coming forward, police started an investigation. In November of 1998, Estabrooks was charged with six counts of indecent assault, and in September of the following year, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail.
Read more: Reliving childhood sexual abuse
In November 1999, a New Brunswick Police Commission report was released. It found the 1975 investigation was “unprofessional and, consequently, it resulted in allowing a serious sex offender to go unpunished.” However, it also called the 1997 investigation “excellent”, and concluded no further action was warranted.
Thirteen years later, that “excellent” police investigation would also be discredited when more victims came forward. The current Chief of Police, William Reid, failed to respond to repeated interview requests made by 16×9, so the reason for the failings of the police to uncover those hidden victims isn’t clear. Perry has not been given a mandate to find out why a proper investigation was never done, but even he can’t help wondering what happened.
“It’s not part of my scope to look back then, but anybody would wonder what happened back then. So today in 2013 if a case just like this came across my desk and I’m still working at the Toronto Police Service in sex crimes, Ken Estabrooks would have been arrested immediately. And prosecuted immediately.”
Video: GlobalTV 16×9 investigation into a Saint John police officer’s decades of child sex abuse. Jennifer Tryon has the story.
Sadly, that option is no longer available. Estabrooks died of cancer in 2005, shortly after being released from prison. The only thing left now, is to give back some dignity to the victims.
“I have so much respect for all the people I’ve talked to. Every single one of them. I believe everything they’ve told me, I have the utmost admiration for what they’ve endured, all of these years. Not one victim has said to me, where do I get my money? They want to be heard. One of the recurring themes in all of this is that they just want somebody to acknowledge that this happened to them. And they want somebody to say that they’re sorry. That’s really what they’re looking for.”
As a former police officer, the Estabrooks case has clearly gotten under Perry’s skin. And for just a moment, his professional demeanor falls away, and a personal agenda emerges.
“Being a police officer is the ultimate authority and the ultimate position of trust within our community. I think people like Ken Estabrooks who purposely insert themselves into an institution for the sole purpose of abusing children should have an additional mandatory sentence attached anything that happens to them in court. The saddest part here I think is that Ken Estabrooks is dead and we can’t prosecute him. I think that would be something that all of us wish we could do.”
Watch: More a preview of 16 x 9’s interview with David Perry
The City of Saint John has set up a toll-free number; victims can call to speak to Dave Perry and his partner Laura Bradbury to receive counselling paid for by the city. The number is 1-866-790-4764
Don’t miss the full story this Saturday at 7pm on 16×9.
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