Federal judge grants motion for acquittal in Eric Parker case

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - A federal judge has granted a motion for acquittal in the Eric Parker case. The ruling was issued just before 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday and it came the same day federal prosecutors urged the judge not to acquit the Madison police officer.

Parker has been tried twice in federal court in Huntsville for his takedown of an Indian man in an early morning encounter in Madison in February. Both times the jury deadlocked.

Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala's 92-page opinion reads in part:

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. If Mr. Parker or Mr. Patel could take that time back, both would surely do things differently and avoid the events that have forever changed both of their lives. Mr. Patel had—and has—just as much right to be free from excessive force as every citizen of this country. He is welcome here, and it is appropriate to grieve his injury. However, that injury, standing alone, does not provide the basis for a criminal judgment against Mr. Parker under 18 U.S.C. § 242. 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. Two juries have communicated as much after lengthy deliberations that produced thoughtful questions and, ultimately, deadlock. 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. The Government has had two full and fair chances to obtain a conviction; it will not have another.

Court transcripts from the end of Parker’s second trial were released last week. The transcripts of closed-door meetings  show the judge criticizing the government’s approach to the case, accusing prosecutors of injecting race into the trial and suggesting she would consider an acquittal order based on the case that was presented.

Judge Haikala acknowledged that in reviewing a motion for acquittal the court is required to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, and she still found the case fell short.

"When critical gaps appear in the Government’s case, the Court is not required to turn a blind eye to them," she wrote. "On the contrary, the law requires the Court to consider the objective reasonableness of Officer Parker’s use of force within the totality of the circumstances. The Court has viewed the full expanse of evidence concerning the use of force and is left with the firm conviction that the evidence concerning use of force in this case is not adequate to support a unanimous verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The judge found that even the much-watched video of Parker taking Patel to the ground did not provide a clear picture of what happened in the encounter.

"The Government’s case suffered not only from substantial direct contradiction from its own witnesses and from evidence put on by the defense, but also from telling gaps in the record." she wrote. "For all of the Government’s diligent efforts to enhance the dashcam video, the enhanced video fails to capture critical pieces of evidence. The video does not show whether Mr. Patel placed his hands in his pockets as he walked away from Officers Parker and Slaughter."

In her ruling  Haikala found the evidence about Patel's ability to speak English "was "very much" disputed. Though her ruling also includes a transcript of Parker speaking to a supervisor over the radio, saying, "He can’t speak a bit of English."

The court found that officers were right to be wary before the takedown.

"And if Mr. Patel actually told Officers Parker and Slaughter that he was  'walking, walking,' then Officers Slaughter and Parker—indeed any reasonable officer—would have reason to suspect that Mr. Patel was being dishonest and evasive when he repeatedly said “No English.”

She said Parker had a reasonable basis to investigate Patel based on the 911 call regarding a suspicious individual in the neighborhood.

"Although Mr. Patel was just walking down the sidewalk when Officers Spence, Parker, and Slaughter saw him, the officers did not know whether Mr. Patel was casing homes for a future burglary or whether he may have committed a crime before the officers arrived."

Judge Haikala also found that Patel resisted Parker.

"The slow motion clips from the Government’s enhanced dashcam video supply objective evidence of resistance," the judge wrote. "The clips show that immediately before Officer Parker took Mr. Patel to the ground, Mr. Patel took a step to the side with his left foot and turned to face Officer Parker. Every police officer who was asked, including Captain Stringer, Captain Sanders, and Officer McCullars, agreed that a subject who turns to face an officer during a pat down while the officer and the subject are in the personal contact zone—the most dangerous contact zone— indicates resistance."

The judge also found that Parker was credible. The government had argued that Parker didn't tell anybody in the Madison Police Department that he slipped during the takedown of Patel until he testified at his trials.

"As with the Government’s use-of-force evidence, Officer Parker answered each piece of evidence that the Government offered concerning willfulness and established a hypothesis of innocence that is sufficiently reasonable and sufficiently strong that a reasonable trier of fact must necessarily entertain a reasonable doubt about Officer Parker’s alleged specific intent to deprive Mr. Patel of his Fourth Amendment rights," the court wrote.

Federal prosecutors planned try Parker for a third time, if the court hadn't granted the acquittal. U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said her office was fully committed to retry the case and seek justice for Sureshbhai Patel.

Parker is still charged with a misdemeanor assault charge in  Limestone County. A civil lawsuit was also filed against Parker on Patel's behalf.

To read the complete ruling, click here.