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Three RCMP officers acquitted of assaulting man drinking root beer

Three RCMP officers were justified in their actions subduing and arresting a man for obstruction after he refused to comply with their demands, a judge ruled.

Cpl. Kevin Roger Lee Halwa, 42; Const. Robert Andrew Scott Burchett, 50; and Cpl. Dean Allan Purcka, 41, were all found not guilty of assault by Judge Les Grieve on Wednesday in Red Deer provincial court.

The three arrested Levi Desjarlais, of Sherwood Park, for obstruction following an investigation for a gaming and liquor act offence. Desjarlais carried a brown bottle police suspected contained beer. Desjarlais does not drink and it was a root-beer bottle.

Grieve said the officers were falsely accused by Desjarlais. The judge went on to say Desjarlais was an inconsistent witness who made no complaint for months and only came forward when he found out he could get some money out of the incident. A civil case is pending.

Grieve described the officers as capable, level-headed and veterans of the RCMP. Desjarlais was kicked, had his legs swept and was pepper-sprayed in the ordeal. However, Grieve said police do have to apply force every day and used appropriate force in arresting a man under investigation for obstruction.

The brown class bottle Desjarlais held could be reasonably assumed to be a beer bottle, both Grieve and Desjarlais concluded during the trial.

When Desjarlais refused to hand over the bottle and refused to identify himself, as was stated in Burchett’s testimony, Grieve concluded the officer rightly entered into an obstruction investigation.

The matter was exacerbated when Desjarlais took a swig of the bottle in front of the officers, in his own admission was a boastful show.

Grieve believed the officers in their testimony that they had entered into an obstruction investigation and were placing Desjarlais under arrest. He said police are often in places where they have to make decisions quickly and have some latitude with their actions, if there are reasonable grounds.

Desjarlais was then pepper-sprayed, taken to the ground and arrested.

Grieve said there were reasonable grounds for how the police attempted to apprehend Desjarlais.

Desjarlais was taken to the Sylvan Lake RCMP detachment and given treatment for his eyes. The officers described Desjarlais as apologetic and remorseful after he was arrested. By then police had determined the bottle contained root beer and Desjarlais had not consumed alcohol.

“Mistakes happen and we can’t be unreasonable to expect police to be perfect,” said Grieve in his decision.

Desjarlais was released on a promise to appear in court on resisting arrest, obstruction and causing a disturbance. Halwa later made the decision to not swear the charges and the matter was dropped.

mcrawford@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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