An Alberta family wants answers after they say their son was punched and kicked by Alberta Sheriffs during a traffic checkstop.
The Leussink family said it happened the evening July 31, when 18-year-old Jeremia was driving a tractor near Didsbury, Alta.
Around 9 p.m., the young man passed a checkstop at Highway 2A and Township Road 312A, but failed to pull over and instead made a move to exit the road on his tractor.
“He wasn’t even aware what was happening,” said his brother, Clinton Leussink. “It was just a line up of cars with a police car. The field he needed to get into was right down the road. He could see the field he needed to drive into.
“He’d been working 16 hours at that point and he thought, ‘I’ll just drive into the ditch, get into the field,’ which is a standard practice. A lot of the fields we go into, we drive through the ditch.”
Video of what happened next, taken by onlookers, shows Jeremia being pulled from the tractor by officers, and slammed to the ground.
The family said that Jeremia was punched and kicked following the arrest and has provided photos that show Jeremia with a black eye.
Jason van Rassell, a communications director from Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, said Monday that all vehicles have to follow traffic rules when on the road, including checkstops.
“Sheriffs were stopping all traffic that approached the checkstop and screening motorists for signs of impairment,” said van Rassell in an email. “Sometime after 9 p.m., sheriffs noticed a tractor enter the highway and drive past the checkstop without stopping.
“Drivers operating any kind of vehicle on a public highway are subject to rules of the road set out in the Traffic Safety Act, the Criminal Code and associated regulations, and this includes stopping for peace officers when directed.”
On Tuesday, van Rassell said charges are pending against Jeremia of refusal to provide a breath sample and resisting arrest.
Jeremia’s family said they wanted to raise awareness on what happened because they don’t believe the officers should have used force in the situation. Jeremia was also taken into custody after the charges were laid.
“It’s very difficult to handle that, to believe that just happened right here in Alberta,” Clinton said.
The family said that their tractor also was damaged after the arrest, as the officers had it towed and impounded. They’re also raising money online for legal representation in the case.
‘Missed opportunity’ to de-escalate the situation
One criminal defence lawyer said that the current laws around impaired driving were broadened in 2018, and some advocates believe the new rules give police more power when it comes to checkstops.
“The power to stop somebody to the amount of breath sample is the broadest it’s ever been,” said Gavin Wolch. “And there was a lot of criticism when that law was being developed and coming into into force, that it was something that seemed to be ripe for over policing, or abuse.”
Wolch added that while it is hard to understand what was going on between Jeremia and the officers without the audio from the video, he was shocked by what he saw.
“What I see is at least a missed opportunity to de-escalate a situation. At least a failure of communication,” he said. “When you watch the video slowly, while the fellow is being pulled head-first out of the cab and he’s on his way to the ground, you see a second strike. So you see an officer come in and sort of strike him down.”
“That’s a frightening thing to see — how far he’s pulled from that tractor.”
“I think it raises questions about body cameras. And audio recording of encounters with police,” Wolch said. “You’re only supposed to use force where it’s really necessary.”
Alberta Sheriffs didn’t comment on the arrest as they said the case is before the courts.
–With files from Adam Toy