Patel family attorney criticizes Madison for bringing back officer Eric Parker

MADISON, Ala. -- The attorney for Sureshbhai Patel told WHNT News 19 today that he was surprised by Madison’s decision to reinstate Eric Parker to the city’s police department Tuesday.

Patel encountered Parker during a morning walk on Feb. 6, 2015. Parker and a trainee officer responded to a report of a suspicious person walking down Hardiman Place Lane.

The encounter left Patel, a recent immigrant from India who was living at his son’s home on Hardiman Place, partially paralyzed. The encounter was captured on police dashcam video and drew widespread condemnation, including an apology from Gov. Robert Bentley.

Florence-based attorney Hank Sherrod filed a civil lawsuit on the Patel family’s behalf in 2015. It names Parker and the City of Madison as defendants.

Sherrod spoke to WHNT News 19 Thursday about the decision by Madison’s acting Chief – Major Jim Cooke – to reinstate Parker. Cooke said he reviewed the records of the incident and determined Parker did not violate policy.

“The city isn’t about sending the message we don’t tolerate police misconduct,” Sherrod said. “They’ve just sent the opposite message.”

Sherrod said it was hard for him to understand the decision to reinstate Parker.

“Police departments have a hard time disciplining their own,” he said. “But you expect the one time [it could happen] is when it’s on video and there are serious consequences for somebody.”

After the incident, Parker was recommended for termination by Police Chief Larry Muncey and charged with misdemeanor assault. He was later indicted on a federal excessive force charge. The result -- acquittal by a federal judge on that charge after two juries deadlocked and couldn’t reach a verdict.

Parker was reinstated to the department. He has to go to a training unit before he is recertified as an officer, then will get a duty assignment.

Parker’s attorney Robert Tuten argued in court that Parker was just doing his job. The encounter escalated, Tuten argued, because Patel failed to follow Parker’s instructions.

Tuten said Wednesday that Parker had felt all along that he’d done nothing wrong.

Sherrod’s lawsuit alleges that Parker’s actions were part of a pattern of civil rights violations by the City of Madison. He said the department’s use of force policy that was in effect in February 2015 was inadequate.

“To get the situation under control as quickly as possible, or language like that,” Sherrod said, about the policy. “That may be how they were training people. But, if that is the only value they were training people on, what they were doing is training people on something that is unconstitutional.”

Following the federal court verdict for Parker, the Alabama Attorney General’s office dropped the assault charge. Parker still faced department discipline recommended by Police Chief Larry Muncey. But Muncey was placed on leave after U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala found him guilty of contempt of court.

Muncey admitted having contacted police witnesses who testified on Parker’s behalf during his first trial. The officers testified Parker’s use of force against Patel was not a violation of department policy.

Muncey told WHNT News 19’s Jerry Hayes in May that those officers were wrong to suggest Parker’s actions were within policy and he was acting to try and prevent future excessive force lawsuits.

Sherrod said that Muncey tried to the right thing in disciplining Parker.

He said he it will take at least a year for the lawsuit to go to trial. Attorney for Madison and Parker have argued the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Sherrod said he’s updating the lawsuit to reflect the decision to reinstate Parker. He said that shows Madison approved of Parker’s actions.

That’s the real policy, is what we’ve learned,” Sherrod said. “Parker did just what he was supposed to do.”