More than $66,400 had been raised as of Aug. 17 to help cover legal costs for two Alberta farmers who were charged after an altercation with Alberta sheriffs last month.
Jeremia Leussink, 18, was driving between hay fields July 31 when he neared his destination field and came upon a check stop on Highway 2A near Didsbury, Alta., at about 9 p.m.
Not realizing the cause for traffic delays, he drove into the ditch in an attempt to reach the field and start haying.
Sheriffs apparently thought he was avoiding the check stop so they stopped Leussink and demanded he exit the tractor and provide a breath sample. The farmer was subsequently wrestled from the tractor.
The incident, caught on video, shows five sheriffs forcing the young farmer from the family’s Fendt tractor, forcing him to the ground and causing him to bleed from the mouth and nose. He was handcuffed, searched and put in a law enforcement vehicle.
Later he was charged with refusing to provide a breath sample and resisting arrest.
When another Leussink brother, Dominic, 20, arrived to get the tractor, confusion about whether or not it could be released led to charges against him of resisting arrest and obstruction, said Maria, one of their sisters.
The incident has inflamed social media, with many viewing the sheriffs’ actions as overly aggressive.
In a statement provided to The Western Producer, Alberta Justice said drivers operating any kind of vehicle on a public highway must comply with the rules of the road, including stopping for peace officers when directed.
“Sheriffs gave verbal direction and motioned as the driver drove past. The driver eventually stopped and was approached by a sheriff who explained the purpose of the check stop. The driver refused to provide a breath sample and officers warned him of the consequences of refusing to do so,” Alberta Justice said in an emailed statement.
“The driver continued to refuse. Refusal to provide a breath sample at a check stop constitutes reasonable grounds to lay charges against the operator of the vehicle. The sheriffs laid charges against the operator for refusal to provide a breath sample and resisting arrest. With this case now before the courts, we have no further comment.”
Maria said last week that Jeremia was shaken by the incident and was not willing to be interviewed.
“He’s doing all right. It definitely was a big shocker for him and he’s a bit sore. He says his neck’s been bothering him,” she said Aug. 12.
She added that Jeremia, who does not have a driver’s licence and has never been in trouble with the law, did not know what a breathalyzer was and did not understand sheriffs’ requests and instructions when he was stopped.
“(The officers) all handled the situation quite disrespectfully and unprofessionally and it was very uncalled for,” said Maria. “It was bizarre.
“It was very, very over the top and after they finally pulled him out of the tractor he fell on the pavement … One of the sheriffs jumped, like, pounced on him. The more I watch (the video), the more I notice how stupid they acted. It’s just ridiculous.”
The tractor was also damaged during Jeremia’s arrest and in the subsequent towing.
“They broke one of the levers on the side of the steering wheel. They also broke one of the mounts for the computers in the tractor,” said Maria.
“And then when they tried to tow it, they wrecked the transmission … and they also damaged the p.t.o. in the process because they didn’t even know how to start the tractor.”
Another Leussink sister, Moneka, said the family’s insurance company has supplied another tractor so the siblings can continue with their custom haying work in addition to duties on their own 800-acre farm near Sundre, Alta.
Moneka said the family is gratified by the response to a GoFundMe appeal. Their goal was to raise $15,000 to cover legal costs because they have hired a lawyer and intend to fight the charges. Four times that amount had been raised in less than a week.
“Really it just shows how many Albertans feel the same way about the way the sheriffs handled the situation, the fact that there’s so much support and so many donations coming in.”
Moneka said Jeremia was trying to avoid delays and get his work done when he appeared to avoid the traffic stop.
“Who is going to try and run away from police in a tractor that doesn’t even go very fast at all? He wasn’t trying to evade… or get around anything,” Moneka said.
“He was really, really traumatized. He was really just completely confused about the whole thing. Any respect that he may have had for law enforcement probably went down the drain at this point, with the way they handled the situation with him.”