Lawyers for the prosecution and the defence gave their final arguments to the jury on Nov. 5 in the manslaughter trial of Const. Jason Tait of the RCMP held at the Capitol Theatre in Nelson.
On the evening of Jan. 29, 2015, Tait was following drunk driver Waylon Eady on the highway near Castlegar, with lights and siren, trying to pull him over. But Eady didn’t stop.
So Tait overtook Eady and passed him, then placed his car across the westbound lane on the Kinnaird Bridge, blocking Eady’s path. This resulted in a chain of events that led to Tait fatally shooting Eady.
Tait testified in the trial that as soon as he parked across the lane in front of Eady, it was immediately apparent to him that Eady did not intend to stop. Afraid for his life, he exited his car and ran across the eastbound lane, expecting that Eady was about to ram his vehicle.
Eady’s vehicle then veered into the eastbound lane, heading straight for Tait, who testified that he expected to be run over and killed. As he ran across the eastbound lane he fired four shots at the driver’s windshield of Eady’s vehicle and then narrowly escaped being run over by it.
He then ran after the vehicle, slashing the rear tire as he ran, brought the vehicle to a stop and with another officer took Eady, bleeding from a gunshot wound, onto the pavement and administered first aid. Eady died a few minutes later.
Crown prosecutor Brian McKinley’s position was that Tait moved on foot into the eastbound lane to confront Eady, an unnecessary and dangerous move that led to Eady’s death. Defence lawyer David Butcher’s position was that Tait left his vehicle and ran across the highway to save his own life, expecting his car to be rammed.
During the six-week trial, Tait testified that he decided to block the path of Eady’s pickup because otherwise Eady would have driven into Castlegar, endangering the public. He knew, he said, that Eady had multiple drunk driving convictions, was prohibited from driving, was known to be violent toward police, and had run from police in the past.
Tait didn’t want a dangerous car chase through Castlegar, he said, and he didn’t want to just let Edey go, because he was a danger to the public.
McKinley, in his summation to the jury, said the evidence of witnesses and experts in the trial had shown that Tait’s actions, starting with blocking the lane with his vehicle, were wrongheaded and illegal, hence the charges of manslaughter and dangerous driving brought against him.
“We don’t take issue with the fact that Mr. Edey should have been stopped by the police,” McKinley said. “We take issue with the manner in which Const. Tait tried to do that … He ended the life of Waylon Jessie Edey, a 39-year-old father, brother and son. And he did that by intentionally shooting him.”
McKinley said Tait did not conduct a proper risk assessment before deciding to cut Eady off and that with that action, the need for lethal force was foreseeable.
“His actions in unexpectedly blocking the roadway and proceeding on foot were not reasonable, necessary, or proportionate, given the circumstances …,” McKinley told the jury. “His contribution to the creation of that situation [Eady’s shooting death] means that Const. Tait should have criminal responsibility for the outcome.”
McKinley said manslaughter is committed when a person causes the death of another person either through criminal negligence (the person may not have intend to cause harm but their actions were reckless) or through an unlawful act, knowing that harm will result.
“Constable Tait’s actions … were a marked and substantial departure from what a reasonable police officer would have done in the circumstances.”
McKinley said Edey’s reputation as a violent drunk driver who was prone to run from police should have dissuaded Tait from taking the action he did, because Tait should have known there would be a violent outcome, and McKinley said that various witnesses over the past weeks have corroborated this.
Defence council Butcher told the jury that Tait was simply doing his job by trying to get a very intoxicated and dangerous person off the road.
“Waylon Eady was a danger to each and every person who drives or walks on our streets,” Butcher said. “He was disdainful of the law. He was an outlaw in every way. Const. Tait is hired by all of us to protect us from people like Mr. Edey. He had a duty to act.”
Butcher said that because of his training and experience in both the Canadian military and then the RCMP, Tait was well equipped to deal with the situation.
When Tait fired his gun he was acting in self-defence, Butcher said, reminding the jury that Tait had testified that he felt closer to death in that moment than at any time facing the Taliban in Afghanistan, where he was a munitions expert.
“Const. Tait was within a second of being killed,” Butcher said. “If that had happened, Mr. Eady would have been charged with homicide for killing a police officer. But things did not happen that way, because … Const. Tait was a military veteran. He possessed shooting skills not possessed by ordinary police officers, to deliver four shots instantly, one of which saved his own life.”
Butcher went into detail about the testimony of an investigator from the Independent Investigations Office, the agency that investigates incidents in which people are injured or killed by police officers. Butcher said evidence produced in the trial showed the agency to be incompetent, and said the case should never have been approved by the Crown for a criminal trial in the first place.
On Nov. 6, Justice Catherine Murray gave her instructions to the jury, who then were sequestered to come to a decision.