MADISON, Ala. - After Madison Police Officer Eric Parker's takedown of Sureshbai Patel in February 2015 that left the grandfather partially paralyzed, Madison Police substantially rewrote their policy manual, including their policies on use of force.
A letter this week from the acting Chief of Madison Police, Major Jim Cooke, reinstated Parker. The letter from the acting chief says that Parker did not break the law or violate Madison Police policy.
That might not be the case if the same actions were committed today.
The Madison Police Department has totally overhauled its use of force policies, and the new language intersects heavily with the facts of the Parker-Patel encounter.
WHNT News 19 took action for months to obtain the policies from the City of Madison. In the course of that process, the department told us the changes were part of an accreditation process. When WHNT News 19 followed up with the active chief for this story, he didn't even wait for us to explain what we wanted to ask about before telling us he wouldn't comment.
Federal Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala cleared Officer Parker of federal criminal wrongdoing, and in her opinion, she cited the Madison use of force policy in place at the time of the incident.
That policy acknowledges its own vagueness. It reads in part:
"Situations involving a response to resistance are dynamic events which require split-second decision making by the officer on the scene regarding the type and amount of force deployed. It is important to understand that use of force policy and training not be based on strict rules that amount to a 'by the numbers' mechanical application."
The old policy authorized Madison Police to use non-deadly force that is:
- Reasonably necessary for self-defense
- Defense of another person
- To overcome resistance or enforce compliance as quickly as possible in anticipation of and/or to prevent the escalation of resistance
- Preventing escape
- Gaining safe and effective control of unlawful situations
The new policy, implemented in January 2016, also acknowledges the split-second decisions of officers, but it clearly lists out some of the facts that may impact officers decision-making, including:
- Level of resistance
- Severity of the crime
- Level of imminent threat to the officer or to others
- Subject is resisting arrest or seizure
- Officer vs subject size, strength and physical abilities
- The presence of other officers.
The post-Parker policy even tells officers:
When safe, under the totality of circumstances, officers should consider whether a subject's lack of compliance is deliberate or if he/she displays an inability to comply based on suspected factors including, but not limited to:
- Medical conditions
- Mental or physical impairment
- Language barrier
No one that we've reached out to in Madison — not the mayor, not the city council members, not the acting chief of police — will speak to us about Eric Parker rejoining the force and what it means for policing.
However, we do know he has a different standard to answer to now.