MADISON, Ala. – A civil rights lawsuit filed against a Madison police officer in a 2015 excessive force claim should have its day in court, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirms a lower court ruling that Sureshbhai Patel’s lawsuit against Madison Police Officer Eric Parker and the city of Madison should proceed.
Patel was partially paralyzed in an encounter with Parker in February 2015, as he walked through his son’s Madison neighborhood. Parker and another officer stopped Patel after responding to a call about a suspicious person in the area.
In police dash camera video from the incident, Parker can be seen throwing Patel to the ground after he was handcuffed. Patel’s paralysis injuries were permanent, his lawsuit claims.
Parker denied using excessive force, claiming Patel was resisting him. Patel had recently come into the country to help his son with his family and knew very little English.
Parker was charged in connection with the incident but two juries deadlocked before a federal judge granted a motion acquitting him.
He asked that the lawsuit be dismissed on grounds of “qualified immunity.” The court addressed that claim in today’s ruling.
“Qualified immunity applies to police officers partly because the law
recognizes that they do an important and necessary—but sometimes dangerous—job
on the public’s behalf,” the court wrote. “An officer’s duties often require her to rely on imperfect
information to make snap judgments that can sometimes be the difference between
life and death. But those snap judgments must be reasonable to fall within qualified immunity’s ambit.”
The court said it was not persuaded by Parker’s arguments that the use of force was justified.
“Second, Parker and the City assert that a reasonable officer could have
construed Patel’s minor foot adjustment and the turn of his head as resistance,” the court wrote. “But
even if we assume that it was reasonable for Parker to interpret Patel’s slight
movements as resistance or flight, those ‘minor transgression[s] do not mean that
the force allegedly used was a constitutionally permissible response, or that [Parker
is] entitled to qualified immunity.’ Proportionality is preeminent in the excessive-force
context, and a reasonable jury could conclude that the swift and decisive force Parker
employed was drastically in excess of what Patel’s minor movements warranted.”
The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling states that video of the incident can’t resolve the facts of whether Patel was resisting before being thrown to the ground, so it was affirming the lower court’s denial of summary judgment for Parker and the city of Madison.