Today: Pretrial hearing for case where Feds want to bar Madison cops’ testimony

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala.   -- Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to bar four Madison police officers from testifying that the sudden takedown of an Indian grandfather in February was not contrary to the training given officer Eric Parker.

The officers' testimony was highlighted by the defense at Parker's first trial as part of its argument that his actions were consistent with concerns about "officer safety."

Parker is scheduled for an Oct. 26 retrial on a federal excessive force charge in a case that has drawn international attention following the release of the video showing the violent takedown of Sureshbhai Patel. The jury in the first trial hung up 10-2 in favor of acquittal.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 6 in advance of that trial date.

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice also want the court to exclude any references to the fact that Patel was not carrying his green card, as required by federal law, when he was approached by Parker and another officer.

Parker is charged with violating the civil rights of Patel, who was left partially paralyzed from the Feb. 6 encounter. Patel, an Indian national, was visiting his son’s family in Madison. He was taking a morning walk when he was stopped by Parker and another officer.

The officers had been dispatched after a resident in the neighborhood called police to complain about a suspicious person walking around.

What happened during that encounter is the focus of the federal criminal trial, a related Alabama misdemeanor assault charge and a lawsuit filed by Patel’s family.

A few days after the incident Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey moved to fire Parker, whose case remains on administrative appeal.

The videotape shows a brief encounter with the officers and Patel – who doesn’t speak English – and then Parker sweeping the man’s leg and throwing him to the ground.

During Parker’s trial, four Madison Police Department officers who helped train Parker testified that his actions were not contrary to the training he received under their supervision.  The officers were called to testify by the defense.

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice filed motions Friday arguing the officers’ testimony should be excluded from the retrial.

The government says the testimony from the four officers included their admission that officers received no “defensive tactics training” during Parker’s two years on the force. A training coordinator the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy testified that officers are taught what factors to consider when deciding about when to use force and how much force to use.

“Notably, the MPD policy does not cover defensive tactics or the factors an officer should consider when determining if force can be used and how much force can be used in a particular situation,” the filing argues. “In other words, MPD policy informs officers that they cannot use unreasonable force but does not articulate what is or is not unreasonable force. Thus, training on MPD polices is distinguishable from the use of force and defensive tactics training that the defendant received at the state academy.”

The government also argued the defense did not establish a foundation that shows the officers – other than being training officers – had any experience judging the reasonableness of force or training different than “every police officer in Alabama receives.”

In other motion, the prosecution argues that Patel’s failure to carry his green card is not relevant to the charge against Parker.

“The amount of force that was reasonable to use against (Patel). does not turn on whether he was in violation of a federal law that the defendant did not consider at the time he encountered (Patel),” prosecutors argued. “Conversely, the defendant at trial articulated that (Patel’s) actions as described by the radio dispatcher could be violations of state or municipal ordinances for trespassing and/or prowling.

“Those potential crimes are relevant to the severity of the crime at issue as it relates to the reasonableness of the force. Secondly, any mention that (Patel) was in violation of federal law would be confusing to the jury, because it is not something that should be considered when determining whether the force was reasonable or unreasonable. To allow the defense to bring it up at trial in any capacity, including cross-examination, would serve only to confuse the jury and to suggest a decision on the reasonableness of force on an improper basis.”

U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala has scheduled a pre-trial conference for noon Tuesday.