HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) – An Indian man left partially paralyzed when he was slammed to the ground during a police stop in Alabama testified Wednesday that he’d been in the state only about a week when he was confronted by officers investigating a call about a suspicious person.
Sureshbhai Patel, 58, was pushed in a wheelchair to the witness stand in U.S. District Court in Huntsville, where he testified through an interpreter against Officer Eric Parker during the opening day of testimony. Parker is accused of violating Patel’s civil rights during the police stop Feb. 6 in Madison, a suburban city of about 46,500 just west of Huntsville.
Patel recounted how he was staying with his son on a visit from India and had been out for a morning walk in the neighborhood when police approached. He said he doesn’t speak English and couldn’t understand the orders police gave him.
Cameras in patrol cars recorded the scene as Parker swept one of his legs in front of Patel, slamming him to the ground.
“My two hands, my two legs they all became cold and numb,” Patel said, testifying through interpreter.
Patel later recalled that he couldn’t stand after officers tried lifting him up. Patel’s family has said he still has trouble walking and that the family faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Madison police officer Charles Spence testified Wednesday morning that Parker had Patel’s hands behind his back when he arrived and that he didn’t think Patel needed to be detained because he didn’t appear to pose a threat or resist officers. Spence said Patel was knocked down, then handcuffed and the cuffs were taken off when it became clear that he was hurt.
Video, which was slowed down and enlarged for jurors, was shown in court while Spence was on the witness stand.
In the video, Patel can be seen turning his head toward Parker just before he was knocked down. Before and after the takedown, officers are heard several times trying unsuccessfully to communicate with Patel, who had repeatedly said “No English.”
Parker and his attorney, Robert Tuten, have said Patel repeatedly tried jerking away from officers and reached for his pockets.
Patel denied those claims through his interpreter and said he stopped when officers ordered him to because he heard them shout – not because he understood what they were saying. Patel also said officers “checked his pants” before he was slammed down.
Police were called after a neighbor reported a thin black man walking around looking at houses. Spence said he initially passed Patel and kept looking for a black man who fit the description.
Prosecutors dismissed the defense’s argument that the use of force was justified. They noted that officers were seeking a person based on a vague description and that Patel wasn’t engaged in any criminal activity.
“We could imagine some ghastly scenarios, right?” prosecutor Robert Posey asked after Tuten mentioned hypothetical situations a suspicious person could have been involved in. “But that doesn’t mean you get to treat everybody like a home invasion killer,” Posey said.
Police are trained to be suspicious and must always expect the worst, Tuten said during opening statements. He called Patel’s injuries unfortunate and characterized the encounter as an escalation of police tactics, not a criminal offense.
“They say excessive force, Officer Parker says reasonable under the circumstances,” Tuten said, later adding. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Patel doesn’t speak English. It’s also unfortunate that Mr. Parker doesn’t speak Hindi.”
Patel, a farmer from Gujarat, India, speaks Gujarati. His son, Chirag Patel, said he spent the last nine years working to bring his parents to the United States.
Chirag Patel said he hadn’t thought of telling his father to carry identification during his usual morning walks strolling down the block and back.
The elder man, who is now undergoing physical rehabilitation, has since been joined by his wife and now lives in Alabama with his son.
Parker is being fired by the city of Madison but has appealed and the termination process is on hold until criminal charges are resolved.
Court documents show Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey is expected to testify for prosecutors that Parker’s actions violated department procedures. He publicly apologized to Patel.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called Patel’s treatment a case of “excessive force” in an apologetic letter to the Indian government.
Parker also faces a state assault charge. Patel filed a federal lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount of money for his injuries.
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