On Wednesday morning at the Red Deer Provincial Court House, day three of trial commenced for three RCMP officers each facing one count of assault following an incident that occurred on Aug. 20, 2011 on Lakeshore Drive in Sylvan Lake.
By the end of day three of the trial the officers were found to be not guilty of the assault charges they were facing.
Corp. Kevin Halwa, who has been stationed at the Sylvan Lake detachment since 2004, along with Const. Dean Purcka and Const. Drew Burchett – who were part of an extra policing initiative during the weekend of the incident but were never stationed in Sylvan, each faced one count of assault.
The incident took place in front of the Beach Front Resort on Lakeshore Drive where the complainant, Levi Desjarlais, told the courtroom on the first day of trial, he was assaulted by the RCMP officers. Desjarlais testified he was in Sylvan Lake for the weekend with his girlfriend for a slow pitch tournament.
He recalled the day of Aug. 20, 2011 to the judge, stating he remembers walking to meet their team mates who were staying at the Beach Front Resort – brown bottle of root beer in hand. Nearly to the hotel Desjarlais was called to by Burchett who was under the impression the young man had alcohol in his hand.
Burchett told the courtroom on day two of the trial that he had asked to see the bottle at which time Desjarlais pulled back from the officer stating he didn’t need to because it was only root beer.
At the time Desjarlais did not have identification on him and Burchett stated he refused to identify himself. The complainant stated he felt he had not done anything wrong and by law did not need to identify himself.
Desjarlais proceeded to grab the bottle back from the officer’s hand at which point Burchett opted to call for assistance – Halwa and Purcka arrived on scene shortly after.
Halwa told the courts on day three of the trial he arrived on scene under the impression they were investigating an open liquor infraction and was unaware the bottle inDesjarlais’ hand contained soft drink.
According to Halwa it was at this time Desjarlais started yelling quite loudly. A crowd had gathered around the incident. Purcka approached Desjarlais as he arrived on scene and the officers told him he was under arrest.
Desjarlais reiterated he had done nothing wrong.
“I attempted to put him in handcuffs – so I took his arm,” recalled Purcka. “He pulled away and grabbed my vest, my soft body armour. When he grabbed my vest he pulled hard– you could hear the Velcro tear away…. It exposed me at that point.”
Burchett and Purcka told the courtroom they attempted to gain control of the situation but were struggling, with Purcka describing Desjarlais as being a ‘big guy’.
“That’s when I could smell pepper spray,” recalled Purcka. “He let go of my vest and at that point I was able to get control of his head to take him down.”
Halwa told the courtroom he had pepper sprayed Desjarlais.
“Const. Purcka and Const. Burchett attempted to put his hands behind his back and that’s when the resistance and the struggle carried into the parking lot,” said Halwa. “I see him grab Const. Purcka’s vest, I hear the Velcro go and that’s when I gave him a short burst of pepper spray and we were finally able to take him to the ground.”
The officers gained control of the situation. Desjarlais was handcuffed and brought to his feet – moving him towards Halwa’s car. Desjarlais told the courts he couldn’t see as the officers guided him to the police vehicle – at which time Desjarlais alleges he was kneed in the groin in order to get him in the vehicle.
He stated he asked repeatedly why he was being arrested with Halwa replying he was being arrested for obstruction and disturbing the peace by yelling.
A number of witnesses also testified during Monday’s portion of the trial with Ron Kraemer of St. Alberta, who had been staying at the hotel at the time stated the situation starting off being handled poorly and went south from there.
told the judge Desjarlais was forcefully taken down, never struggled and was being ‘man handled’ adding he felt the officers were being ‘overly aggressive’.
He said the crowd, of around 40-50 people, who were watching the incident were very vocal that what the police were doing was wrong.
Following his arrest Desjarlais was taken back to the station where he was given treatment for the pepper spray and according to Halwa ‘settled down’. Halwa said Desjarlais even apologizes for his behaviour stating to the officer he had been in an argument with his girlfriend.
Following Desjarlais pressing charges and filing a lawsuit against the officers the RCMP launched an internal investigation, which began nearly two and a half years after the incident had occurred.