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Dispute over root beer led to assault by RCMP: victim

Three RCMP officers are on trial for allegedly assaulting a man in Sylvan Lake for carrying an open bottle of root beer.

Levi Desjarlais said he was beaten, pepper sprayed and kneed in the crotch while walking to his friend’s hotel room on Aug. 20, 2011.

Testifying in Red Deer provincial court on Monday, he said it started when one officer pulled his van onto the sidewalk where he and his girlfriend, at the time, Melissa Collard were walking. Desjarlais was carrying a bottle of Stewart’s Root Beer with him.

The officer, Desjarlais identified as Const. Drew Burchett, 50, asked to see the bottle Desjarlais was carrying. Desjarlais assured him it was root beer, but Burchett took possession of the bottle and inspected it.

Burchett, Cpl. Kevin Halwa, 42, and Cpl. Dean Purka, 41, are all charged with assault for their part in the incident.

Collard said Burchett inspected it thoroughly, even sniffed it. Burchett then told Desjarlais it was an alcoholic beverage.

Desjarlais told the court on Monday that he wasn’t drinking that night and doesn’t drink at all. Though, he did see how someone could mistake the bottle for a beer bottle.

Desjarlais told Collard to go to their friend’s room. She left, but it didn’t dawn on her until she got into the hotel’s hallway. A crying and hysterical Collard told them that Desjarlais was in trouble. His friends and family in the room rushed down to the street and told the officers to stop what they were doing.

Back up was called and Desjarlais continued to have a disagreement with officers on scene on whether it was beer or root beer.

Desjarlais said an officer poured out some of his root beer and that’s when the officers agreed that it was root beer.

Desjarlais was kicked in the back of the knees in an attempt to ‘slew foot’ him. He was told to get on the ground.

Desjarlais was also pepper-sprayed in the face. He said he couldn’t breath and was laying on the ground when he was hand cuffed.

He struggled to get back to his feet because he couldn’t breathe, so the officers helped him up and tried to guide him into a van.

The whole time Desjarlais asked repeatedly why he was being arrested and what he was being charged with. The response was obstruction.

Nearby, Ron Kraemer was tending to a barbecue for a work function in Sylvan Lake that day. He and members of his group saw what had happened and went over to see the commotion. Kraemer’s colleagues echoed Desjarlais’ friends saying what the police did wasn’t right.

“It started out handled badly and it went south from there,” said Kraemer.

Two officers, each grabbing an arm, walked him over to a recently arrived police car and told him to get in the car. In the process, Desjarlais said one officer grabbed his groin and said in his ear “get into the car.”

Desjarlais was then kneed in the groin and placed in the back of the car.

He was taken to the Sylvan Lake RCMP detachment, where he was held for 10 to 15 minutes, before he was released. He signed a piece of paper saying he was charged with obstruction and resisting arrest. The charges weren’t pursued.

Trial continues today TUESDAY with testimony from the police officer who investigated the incident.

mcrawford@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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