Government expert says Eric Parker’s ‘extremely violent’ takedown of Indian grandfather is not police standard, defense begins case this afternoon
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Madison police officer Eric Parker used an “extremely violent technique” in his takedown of an Indian grandfather in February, an expert witness for the prosecution testified today in Parker’s federal civil rights trial.
The federal government rested its excessive force case against Parker this morning following that testimony. Opening statements in the case were offered Tuesday afternoon. The defense will begin its case at 2 p.m. Thursday and testimony is expected to continue into at least Friday afternoon.
The trial’s third day has been highlighted by the testimony of Kenny Sanders, a sheriff’s department captain in Shreveport, La., who oversees that state’s police training curriculum. Sanders and defense attorney Robert Tuten sparred several times during Sanders’ cross-examination, with Tuten challenging Sanders’ lack of knowledge about Alabama law enforcement training, Parker’s training history and the fact that Sanders hasn’t directly trained officers in the field for 15 years.
Sanders was critical of the amount of force used by Parker against Sureshbhai Patel, given the circumstances of the encounter and the presence of one or two more officers at the scene. He said Parker’s conduct “was not consistent with prevailing police standards.”
Tuten has argued that in responding to a call about a suspicious individual, Parker had to deal with a set of changing circumstances. Patel matched the description provided by the caller who lived in the neighborhood, he did not explain what he was doing and he walked a short distance away from officers more than once.
Tuten said that in the moments before Patel was slammed headfirst to the frozen ground, Patel can be seen on the dashcam video moving his elbow, turning toward another officer, shuffling his feet and resisting Parker’s patdown.
Patel, a grain farmer from India who moved to Madison to live with his son’s family a week
before the incident, testified Wednesday through an interpreter that he doesn’t speak English. He said he tried to tell police “No English” and “India” and doesn’t understand why he was thrown to the ground. The encounter left him partially paralyzed. He now needs a walker to get around and has a steel disc in his neck that was inserted during spinal surgery.
Sanders said officers are trained to consider that people they encounter may not speak English or could be deaf.
But Tuten got Sanders to concede that even if someone is deaf or doesn’t know English, they don’t have the right to resist a police patdown.
Parker was tried on the same charge last month, but the jury deadlocked and did not reach a verdict.
After the prosecution rested, the defense asked U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala to issue a directed verdict of acquittal, arguing the government failed to prove that Parker intentionally denied Patel his civil rights by the use of force.
The government argued this morning another officer on the scene said Patel did not represent a threat at the time of the takedown; that Paker got a dispatcher to do a “BS” search for crimes in the area to justify the encounter and that slamming Patel to the frozen ground headfirst nearly constituted deadly force — which was clearly unreasonable given that Patel had committed no crime and was not charged with any offense.
The judge pushed the prosecution on several points, but noted that the standard for a directed verdict requires the court – at this stage — to view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. On that basis, she said, the case will go forward.
The defense case this afternoon featured two police training experts. Both testified that Parker’s approach with Patel was consistent with his training. They also said his decision to take Patel down could be justified given Patel’s apparent lack of cooperation.
But both Matt McCullars of the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy and Johnny Smith, a martial arts expert who developed the defensive tactics training program taught at Alabama police academies, said they didn’t recognize the takedown technique.
“The takedown is not a takedown we teach” McCullars testified.
Smith, the martial arts expert, went further.
“That technique is not taught anywhere,” he testified. “I’ve heard it referred to as a leg sweep or foot sweep, I don’t even see that.”
Smith later testified that it didn’t appear to him that Parker tried to sweep Patel’s leg away, but rather he made up a move and then lost his balance, making contact with Patel’s leg.
The day’s final witness was Madison Police Sgt. Marc Bray. Bray was Parker’s shift supervisor at the time of the Feb. 6 incident. He testified that Parker’s takedown of Patel did not violate Madison Police Department policy.
A few days after the incident Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey announced the department was filing a misdemeanor assault charge against Parker in Limestone County and moved to fire him. A final determination about his job status is not expected to occur until after the criminal cases against Parker are resolved.
Prosecutors pushed Bray to admit that law enforcement officers must have a reasonable basis for their use of force. Bray said it appeared to him that Parker and Patel slipped.
The defense resumes its case at 9 a.m.