STETTLER — A groundswell of support Thursday left a Tees farmer “overwhelmed” with gratitude, his lawyer said following a brief court appearance.
Brian Russell Knight, 38, reserved his plea through his lawyer Jim Dixon on seven charges, including the most serious of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
The provincial courtroom, which seats about 70 people, was jammed to capacity with another 60 people standing in the two aisles before Judge John Holmes.
Knight was charged on March 26 after it was alleged he chased down and shot one of three men with a shotgun blast. It’s alleged the men were discovered in Knight’s farm yard early in the morning attempting to steal an ATV.
The injured 30-year-old man was taken to an Edmonton hospital, treated and released on a promise to appear in court. He has been charged with theft but his name hasn’t been released yet because the information hasn’t been sworn, Sgt. Jim Lank of Bashaw RCMP said later Thursday. The Privacy Act prevents police from releasing the identity of an accused until the information is sworn.
Lank also said it appears the other two men alleged to be involved in the theft will be charged.
Bashaw RCMP said the incident started around 1:40 a.m. when three men were spotted in Knight’s yard.
Two of the men took off in a truck while the third hopped on the ATV.
Police allege the ATV was forced off the road and two shots were fired as the man ran off.
Knight is also charged with pointing a firearm, possession of a weapon dangerous to the public, discharging a firearm, dangerous driving, and possession of an unregistered firearm.
The large throng waiting outside the courthouse following the appearance cheered and clapped when Knight finally emerged flanked by his wife and Dixon.
People came from all over Central Alberta, including an elderly couple from Wildwood, located about 125 km west of Edmonton, to support Knight and make financial contributions to his defence fund.
“We came to show our backing and to give him some money because rural people are not always cared for quickly by the police,” said Colleen Korbisser.
“He’s the victim. He was protecting his property,” Korbisser said.
Knight, flanked by his wife and Dixon and dressed in a smart olive green suit, said he would let his lawyer convey his words.
“The matters with which he is charged are certainly not trifling or inconsequential,” Dixon said in a prepared statement.
“These are very serious matters and as such will be responded to in a serious fashion,” Dixon added.
Dixon said the facts indicated that “evil doers had invaded the sanctity of the Knight home in the wee hours of the night.”
He said his client is of a “community of persons who holds the police and the courts in high regards.”
“He stands here in humble awe and is absolutely overwhelmed by the considerable amount of support he’s received from near and far.”
Dixon said Knight, who is a stranger to the court system, is “apprehensive, uncertain and unnerved” by the events.
Clive area neighbours Walter Hunter and Scott Reaney also came to show support.
Hunter, a former Clive councillor, said rural people are fed up with slow police response times to complaints.
“Sometimes it takes two hours to get a cop out. There has to be changes made to the system to get us help and protection,” Hunter said.
He said many people are fed up with both the police and the Crown prosecutor’s office in handling crime.
“People have had enough. Brian is the victim here,” Hunter added.
Reaney said he went to school with Knight and knows him as a “decent, moral person.”
“He’s not a vigilante. He’s not a gun-toting maniac and he’s not a John Wayne,” Reaney said.
“I bet there’s people around who would have finished the thief off but Brian called police to say they had the guy.”
A Facebook page started in support of Knight, called Support for Brian Knight of Tees Alberta, has drawn 2,400 names.