Judge holds hour-long closed-door hearing in Eric Parker police civil rights abuse case

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --  A federal judge met behind closed doors with attorneys in the Eric Parker federal excessive force case for more than an hour this afternoon.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala asked that the courtroom be cleared so the parties could take up some issues "under seal." The judge did not immediately issue an order following the hearing, but attorneys said it could come later today.

Parker had been a Madison police officer for two years at the time of a February encounter in a quiet Madison subdivision that left an Indian man partially paralyzed.

Parker is set to be retried Oct. 26 after a jury last month deadlocked 10-2 in favor of his acquittal. He was charged with violating the civil rights of Sureshbhai Patel, who was out for a walk near his son’s home. Parker’s videotaped takedown of Patel drew international attention. He testified at his trial that he took the 57-year-old man to the ground after he pulled his hands away from Parker a few times.

Parker called it an officer safety issue.

Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey, who directed that Parker be charged with assault in state court and moved to fire him, was in the courtroom – with his own lawyer – for part of the closed-door proceedings. Muncey left the courtroom without comment.

A lengthy closed-door hearing was also held in the middle of Parker’s trial, apparently involving Muncey’s actions surrounding the case. WHNT News 19 was told last month that Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala called him to appear before her for a hearing on allegations he had contact with members of the police department regarding the Parker trial.  Sources told WHNT that Chief Muncey was instructed to bring with him copies of all emails he has sent regarding the proceedings.  We also learned Judge Haikala instructed Chief Muncey to have no contact with members of the department about the trial. No rulings were made public concerning that hearing and the record of the proceeding has been sealed by the court.

Another officer, Andrew Slaughter had his potential testimony discussed in court today. Slaughter, a trainee,  was with Parker during the encounter with the Patel. He informed lawyers in the case before the first trial that if he was called to testify he would plead the 5th Amendment.

Federal prosecutors told the court today that Slaughter had asked for immunity in exchange for his testimony, but the Department of Justice had not decided on whether it would grant that request.

Parker’s attorney, Robert Tuten, said before the first trial that Slaughter had testified before a federal grand jury in the case and may have been concerned about inconsistent statements, AL.com reported.

Tuten said following today’s hearing that he couldn’t discuss the closed-door hearing, which he said was aimed at ensuring a fair trial. He said it was possible the judge would issue a ruling today.

Earlier in the day, Haikala ruled against a government request to bar testimony from four Madison police training officers who testified that the takedown of Patel was not contrary to Parker’s training.

The judge also addressed the prosecution’s request to bar any reference to the fact that Patel was not carrying his green card, as required by federal law, when he was stopped by police. Tuten said the issue came out after prosecutors suggested there was nothing that Patel could have been arrested for. Tuten said if the prosecution doesn’t raise the issue, he doesn’t expect to. The judge left the door open for the defense to raise it, depending on how the prosecution conducts its case.

*Correction at 4:40 p.m.  Slaughter did not appear in court today.