HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The federal government began its case against former Madison police officer Eric Parker today, trying to show he used excessive force in the takedown of Sureshbhai Patel in February.
A neurosurgeon testified this morning that Patel suffered spinal cord damage and needed to have a metal disc inserted in his spine to stabilize it.
Patel testified he’d come back to Madison from India on Jan. 29 to live with his son’s family on a permanent basis. In India, he was a grain farmer and left school in the fifth grade. He moved here to care for his grandson and obtained U.S. residency.
Speaking through an interpreter in court Wednesday, Patel said he went out for a walk, heard police ask him to stop, so he stopped. Patel said he doesn’t speak English, even at his son’s home they speak his native Gujarati.
He testified that he tried to tell police, including Parker, “No English, India” and point them to the house where he was living. The officers held his hands behind his back, he said, and patted him down. He had a handkerchief and betel nuts in his pockets, he said.
Then he was thrown to the ground, Patel testified. He said he hadn’t walked away, as Parker claimed on the videotape of the incident shown to the jury this morning.
Patel said after he was thrown down his legs and arms went numb and he couldn’t walk. Parker can be heard on the videotape at least 10 times, urging Patel to get up. He was eventually transported by an ambulance and later had surgery.
Tuten questioned Patel on his memory of the encounter and stressed to him that he walked away from officers three different times. Patel insisted he didn’t. Patel said he was walking on the “stone road” — the sidewalk, when he was stopped. Tuten indicated the video would address that point, and completed his questioning of Patel.
Charles Spence, a veteran Madison police officer, testified the use of force against Patel was unnecessary. The defense pushed back against that claim, noting that police were dispatched after a call from a resident on the street where Patel was living.
The resident claimed he didn’t recognize the man, who appeared to be looking in garages and walking in other yards. The resident said he’d lived on the street for four years and was concerned about leaving his wife and child at home, with the unknown man in the neighborhood.
Defense attorney Robert Tuten pushed Spence on the point, noting that police have a duty to investigate such calls.
Spence testified if a subject doesn’t understand police commands, during a consensual encounter, he may not be noncompliant, only confused.
Tuten asked Spence if police have to take control of a situation in an encounter with the public and Spence agreed.
Wednesday afternoon, Parker’s patrol shift supervisor Clint Harrell testified that Parker called him about the encounter with Patel and he visited the scene. He initially told Parker to go to the hospital with Patel, but his boss wanted Parker to come back to the police station and write up his report.
Harrell testified he received the report and directed Parker to add more detail. He also testified that Parker had told him one of the reasons he took Patel into custody was due to the number of burglaries that had occurred in the area. Harrell said he then directed Parker to document those incidents.
Madison Police Department dispatcher Angela Sharp testified that she spoke to Parker twice that day. The prosecution played a recording of the calls and provided a transcript to jurors. On the call Parker asks Sharp for help identifying burglaries and other incidents in the area around Hardiman Place Lane in recent months. She replies that she understands, “You want me to stack your PC (probable cause).”
They discuss the basic records to search and Sharp says, “So you need me to do a (b.s.) search?”
Parker replies, “That’s why I called.”
The search doesn’t yield much and Parker asks for her to search further back in time, because he recalls burglaries in the area. Sharp responds she didn’t find the cases he was talking about. She does point out that the same street where Patel was stopped had a number of calls about “suspicious vehicles.”
Defense attorney Robert Tuten challenged the account of Harrell, pointing out that officers are expected by department policy to respond to citizen complaints. And, that the department relies on citizen calls to ensure neighborhood safety. Harrell agreed. Tuten then pushed the argument that a subject of a police encounter cannot simply walk away from police while they’re trying to understand the situation and that police have to make split-second decisions based on the information available.
Tuten also asked Harrell whether after reviewing Parker’s report and watching the dash cam video, that he told Parker, ‘everything was fine.’
Harrell replied, “No sir, I did not tell him that.”