The two week long coroner’s inquest into the death of Kyle Tait, 16, concluded yesterday with the jury determining that his shooting was a homicide, not an accident. Kyle Tait was one of five teenagers aged between 14 and 18 who were in a vehicle that was pursued into Burnaby by all ten New Westminster police officers (in seven police cruisers) on duty on Tuesday, August 23, 2005. The pursuit ended in a collision which damaged six vehicles in a residential neighborhood. The jury heard evidence from at least four civilian witnesses that the teens’ vehicle was stalled and motionless when Cst. Todd Sweet fired three bullets into it, wounding the eighteen year old driver and killing Kyle instantly. No drugs, alcohol or weapons were found in the vehicle, which later turned out to have been stolen.

As it happened, Cst. Sweet was under criminal investigation at the time of the shooting as a result of kicking another car theft suspect in the head two months earlier while the suspect, Anthony White, was lying defenceless in handcuffs on the ground. The “cowardly attack” was witnessed by several other police officers, who were reportedly sickened by the assault. They reported it to their supervisors, who took no action. Apparently frustrated, they then wrote an anonymous letter dated July 2, 2005 to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner in which they described the brutal kicking incident and reportedly said, “[Sweet] has been getting away with this for two long and its time that something was done about it.” This was apparently a reference to formal complaints lodged against Sweet by ten civilians between 1999 and 2005, all of which were investigated by Cst. Sweet’s New Westminster colleagues and ultimately dismissed as “unsubstantiated”.

After Cst. Sweet killed Kyle Tait, he declined an opportunity to explain what had happened. Instead, he went to Smart & Williams, the law firm of choice for police officers in trouble, which submitted brief written statements on their client’s behalf over the next couple of months. The statements purported to justify the shooting by asserting facts that were contradicted by other witnesses and evidence.

Cst. Sweet, the President of the New Westminster Police Association since 2000, was charged in February, 2007 with assault causing bodily harm for the attack on White and later convicted. He remains on duty.