Two days ago the Criminal Justice Branch released information saying that as a result of an investigation by the Independent Investigations Office into a police involved shooting that occurred “during an attempted traffic stop on January 29, 2015,” RCMP Constable Jason Tait of the West Kootenay Traffic Unit was now charged with manslaughter.
There was precious little other information. All the media reporting I could find on the original incident at the time yielded little more.
An attempted traffic stop? There’s got to be much more to the story. So, I started poking around to try and find out what happened.
It turns out the man who was shot, Waylon Edey, 39, who lived in Yahk, BC had been drinking in a Nelson bar and was so drunk he was cut off by the bar staff. They told him not to drive or they would call the police. He told them to “Go f**k themselves.” He got in his pick up truck and bar staff called 9-1-1.
The next call comes from staff at a drive-thru restaurant who report Edey is drunk and has open liquor in his vehicle, a 5,000 lb. Ford F-150 and is heading toward Castlegar.
Tait was off shift and had just arrived home. He’d heard the call but didn’t think too much about it until his supervisor called him and requested he assist looking for the reported drunk driver.
Now, it should be noted that Tait was a member of “Alexa’s Team” a select group of 335 police officers, who “have made an extraordinary contribution in reducing the number of alcohol and drug affected drivers.” The team was formed by the parents of Alexa Middelaer who was killed at the age of four by a drunk driver in Delta, BC.. All of the officers involved took it very personally and did all they could to prevent another Alexa tragedy.
Tait didn’t hesitate when he got the call. He jumped back in his police SUV and drove out of town looking for the pick up truck. He spotted it near Ootschinia, just outside Castlegar on Hwy #3. He turned and activated his emergency equipment. Moments later the suspect vehicle, driving at about 90 KMH entered the Kinnaird Bridge at the entrance to town.
On the other side of the bridge were strip malls, restaurants and typically, at 8 o’clock in the evening, a lot of pedestrian traffic.
Tait felt he had to stop the impaired driver before he reached that foot traffic lest another tragedy happen.
I should also add that Edey has a history of drunk driving. At the time of the incident he was on probation and his license was suspended. He was also facing charges from another earlier incident from Cranbrook when he tried to run an RCMP road check stop and two members had to dive out of the way to avoid getting hit by him. He was listed on police computers as a flight risk and dangerous to police.
Neither of those officers were spoken to by the IIO during their investigation.
Tait overtook the suspect vehicle on the left and spun his SUV in the so-called attempted traffic stop. He got out of his vehicle which had all the lights activated, drew his weapon and moved to the rear of the driver’s side. Edey showed no sign of slowing down. When he was about 15 feet from the police vehicle Tait fired several shots and started running laterally towards the side of the bridge thinking he might have to jump over, contemplating the 150 ft. drop to the river.
The pickup truck hit the police vehicle on the passenger side toward the rear and continued rolling forward. Tait ran after the vehicle and stabbed the rear tire to disable the vehicle and found Ebey slumped over the wheel.
As a trained paramedic and EMT, he got him out of the vehicle and began emergency first aid and called EHS. Ebey later died of a single bullet wound in hospital.
The IIO had the file for nearly two years and after submitting their report to Crown another 16 months ensued before a decision was made to charge Tait. The CJB attempted to justify the long delays in their press release saying: “The investigation and charge assessment process were protracted due, in part, to the complexities of the evidentiary issues in the case and the requirement for further investigation and analysis.”
There was only one gun and it was not a mystery that required ballistics testing. The only testing needed was a tox screen to determine the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of Ebey. Something that should only take a week or two.
I am told they sought and received a report from an RCMP Use of Force expert who gave the shooting a clean bill of health. The IIO then sought a second opinion from a Calgary Police Service UOF expert who said there were issues with the level of force used.
I spoke with a retired Vancouver Department UOF expert who told me that based on the circumstances he didn’t see an issue. He also cast some doubt on the quality of the CPS expert used by the IIO.
Tait had a duty to stop Edey, a known drunk driver with a history of violence toward police as evidenced by the Cranbrook charges, before he got to the edge of town where the pedestrian traffic was at risk. The public expect their police will do all they can to protect them. Police are duty bound to take acceptable risks in their job. That is what Tait did. He should have a medal pinned on his chest not be before the criminal bar.
Tait was off for a month after the incident. He went through the usual protocols and was given a clean bill of health and following the RCMP review of the shooting, he was returned to active duty. He remained there for 29 months until Crown started making noises that he was going to be charged. An NCO in the RCMP I spoke to thinks this good, young, productive officer may never return to duty given all this.
Tait has spent his whole adult life in the service of this country. Prior to joining the RCMP in 2007, he was in the army and was deployed to Bosnia and then saw action in Afghanistan.
He did his job and this is the thanks he gets. The more I learn of this case, the angrier I get.