Alabama Judge Acquits Police Officer Charged In Takedown That Left Man Partly Paralyzed

Alabama Judge
Photo Courtesy: UPI Screenshot

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Jan. 14 (UPI) — An Alabama police officer who has been tried twice over civil rights accusations that he used excessive force during a rough physical takedown of a 57-year-old Indian man on a sidewalk last year was excused by a judge Wednesday — this time for good.

Officer Eric Parker had faced as many as 10 years in prison for the charge, which stemmed from an incident last February during which he forced Sureshbhai Patel onto the sidewalk in a manner prosecutors and relatives said was criminally excessive.

The trial, Parker’s second, ended Wednesday evening when U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala granted the defense’s motion for acquittal.

Parker’s attorneys had argued that prosecutors failed to support the civil rights charge of deprivation of rights under color of law and asked the judge to toss the case.

“The result in this case is by no means satisfying. Hindsight brings clarity to a calamity. Mr. Patel’s celebrated arrival in this country to begin a new life with his son was interrupted in two tragic minutes,” Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala wrote in a 92-page decision, which was heavily critical of prosecutors’ handling of the case. “The law presumes Mr. Parker’s innocence, and the evidence in the record from two trials does not eliminate reasonable doubt as to Mr. Parker’s guilt.”

U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance criticized the judge’s decision Thursday.

“My office was fully committed to retrying this case and seeking justice for Mr. Sureshbhai Patel,” Vance said. “The evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the government … was sufficient to let a jury decide whether a crime was committed. Instead, the judge has ruled the case is over and there will not be a retrial.”

Among other things, Haikala said prosecutors needlessly made race an issue in their closing arguments when there was no evidence of racial bias anywhere in the case.

“There are troubling things about the way the government has approached the case,” Haikala told prosecutors last week, according to court records.

In her response Thursday, Vance again cited Patel’s ethnicity as a factor in the case.

“The law protects non-citizens and citizens alike from the use of excessive force by police officers. Where you were born shouldn’t change how you are treated by the police,” she said. “Everyone in this country must be able to trust law enforcement. We remain committed to prosecuting those few officers who cross the line and use unreasonable force.”

The first trial of Parker, who pleaded not guilty last April, ended in a deadlocked jury — as did the second, which concluded in November.

Vance said her office intended to prosecute Parker a third time, a prospect now barred by Haikala’s decision.

“The Court has no reason to expect a different result in a subsequent trial given the totality of the evidence that the parties have provided,” Haikala wrote in her ruling. “The Government has had two full and fair chances to obtain a conviction; it will not have another.”

The judge’s ruling Wednesday means Parker can never again be tried on the same charge for the incident. He still might face a far less-severe misdemeanor assault state charge, however.

Patel was questioned on the sidewalk by Madison, Ala., police on Feb. 6, 2015, after a neighbor reported a “suspicious person” in the neighborhood. Patel, who was visiting family from India, spoke no English and relatives said he unsuccessfully tried to communicate that to the officers.

After unsuccessfully dealing with the communication barrier, officer Parker grabbed the man and forced him to the ground. Moments later, while still on the ground, Patel became unresponsive and couldn’t move some of his extremities. He was hospitalized with partial paralysis and ultimately needed spinal surgery.

The entire confrontation between Patel and officers was captured on a police dashboard camera, the footage from which sparked outrage in the United States and India.

Parker had testified that he lost his balance during the confrontation and believed in the moment that Patel may have had a weapon — a version of events soundly refuted by the India native.

“I did not try to run away but I did go back a couple of steps to show them my house, my house,” Patel said through an interpreter at trial. “They put their hands on me and I was just standing and did not move.”


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