Taking Action: Even city council struggles to get information from City of Madison

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MADISON, Ala. -- In mid-May WHNT News 19 made three requests for records from the City of Madison, arising from the federal criminal cases against police officer Eric Parker and Police Chief Larry Muncey.

The city has yet to provide any clear response, some 40 days later.

After numerous follow-up requests about the status of the record requests, Madison City Clerk Melanie Williard responded Wednesday in an email.

“Your request is working its way through the process and I’m positive that the Legal Department is applying their due diligence regarding this request,” she wrote.

The city has not said when it would provide the records, the cost of any related copying or processing fees or, if they plan to deny the request.

But, the city’s legal department has also rebuffed information requests from the Madison City Council.

The Madison City Council has also asked for information concerning Muncey’s job status. The chief has been on paid leave since his April conviction, which he is appealing. At Monday’s Madison City Council meeting, council members wanted to know the reason for his continued leave.

City Attorney Kelly Butler said she couldn’t provide information.

“The reasons behind that are going to keep me from answering that. I’m sorry,” Butler said.

The council members said they are continuing to get questions from residents about what’s going on, but Butler said the job of the legal department was distinct from the job of a public relations office and she preferred not to share information publicly.

“And I understand that you are talking about getting information out to the public, you got to understand, what legal wants to release to the public, is not going to be the same as what, if we had a PR person., what a PR person would release to the public,” Butler said. “You know, if you ask me what we’re going to release, it’s always, nothing.”

Parker was charged with using excessive force in the February 2015 takedown of Sureshbhai Patel. The encounter left Patel with serious injuries.

Parker went through two criminal trials last year, the jury deadlocked both times. In January, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala said federal prosecutors had not shown there was sufficient evidence to convict Parker and she issued an order of acquittal, ending the case.

The defense in both trials offered arguments that led WHNT News 19 to request documents from Madison.

A number of Madison Police Department officers testified in both trials that Parker’s takedown of Patel was within Madison Police Department policy. Prosecutors argued it was an unlawful, excessive use of force.

WHNT News 19 filed a request under Alabama’s Open Records Law on  May 15 with the City of Madison for the Madison Police Department’s policy and procedures manual.  The city has not provided that information and has given no indication when or if it will provide the records.

Parker’s defense also argued he was not properly trained to deal with the encounter with Patel, particularly in the use of necessary physical force to effect an arrest. The government said Parker had used a “leg sweep” on Patel, slamming him face-first to the ground, while his hands were behind his back.

Parker testified that he slipped, that there was no “leg sweep.”

WHNT News 19 asked Madison on May 15 for its police department training requirements. Madison has not provided the records, indicated when the records will be available or if they plan to deny the request.

Chief Muncey was convicted in April of contempt of court, a federal misdemeanor. Muncey drew the ire of Judge Haikala for having contact with police witnesses who testified on Parker’s behalf during the first trial in September.

Muncey said he was trying to protect the department for further liability, trying to make it clear to officers that department policy didn’t include that level of force against a subject who had not been charged with a crime.

But several police officers told the court they felt intimidated by an email Muncey sent them, and in one case, a meeting he conducted.

One officer indicated he was filing a grievance against Muncey, after Muncey did an interview with WHNT News 19 in May. During that interview Muncey was critical of testimony that suggested Parker’s actions were within department policy.

WHNT News 19 learned that at least one officer filed a grievance with Madison concerning Muncey.  So, on May 18 we requested copies of any grievances filed from May 11-19 against Muncey.

The city has not provided those records.