HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A jury was seated Wednesday and prosecutors called several witnesses in the trial of Eric Parker. He’s the Madison police officer charged with depriving a man of his civil rights. Parker’s trial is taking place at the federal courthouse in downtown Huntsville.
During afternoon testimony, Sureshbhai Patel was called to the stand. He is the man who was badly injured in the arrest on Hardiman Place Lane in February. Read our courtroom blog for minute-by-minute updates.
Sureshbahai and Chirag Patel take the stand
Sureshbahi Patel told the jury he lived in India for his whole life until his son, Chirag Patel, was able to bring him to the U.S. on Jan. 30, 2015. He said he lived as a farmer in his home state of Gujarat, growing grain and barley, and had received the equivalent of a fifth grade education. He told the jury he moved to America to live with his son and care for his 2-year-old grandson.
Bringing his father and mother from India had been Chirag Patel’s goal since he first came to America in 2006 to pursue a post-graduate degree at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Chirag Patel, a naturalized U.S. citizen, works as a software engineer for a defense contractor in Huntsville and was able to buy a newly constructed home in Madison in 2014. It was that home that Chirag Patel and his father, whose immigration status is “permanent resident,” lived in at the time of the incident with a Madison Police officer.
Sureshbahi Patel said he went for a walk around the neighborhood every morning, but stayed on the same street as his son’s house and never went farther than ten or 11 houses away. He told the jury he walked on the footpath next to the road and did not go to anybody’s house or into anyone’s yard on his walk.
He said on the morning of the incident, he stopped when he heard shouting from behind him. He recognized the uniforms the men wore as police uniforms. He said he stopped when they shouted, but he could not understand them. He says he was only able to respond, “No English, no English.”
Patel said when the officer put his hand on him, he did not attempt to jerk or pull away. He says shortly after that, the officer “put him on the grass.” He said officers tried to lift him, but his hands and legs were numb.
As a result of his injuries, he now has trouble walking and cannot care for his grandson, he told the jury.
When the defense asked Sureshbhai Patel why he did not carry identification or a card with his son’s contact information on it, he replied that he was simply going for a short-distance morning walk and that there was no need for identification.
Chirag Patel told the jury that his father’s medical bills amount to approximately $125,000 to $150,000 for the hospital stay, approximately $80,000 for the rehabilitation facility, and there are several other ongoing medical expenses. He said a fund was established to help pay for the medical bills, which he said has helped tremendously.
Prosecutors’ first witness was Officer Charles Spence. He has been with the Madison Police Department for 20 years — 15 as a field training officer, or FTO. Those officers are tasked with teaching police policies and procedures.
Spence was called to respond after Officer Parker arrested Sureshbhai Patel on Hardiman Place Lane. Parker had responded on a report of a suspicious person. The jury heard a recording of the dispatcher’s call to police about a “black male” looking into garages there.
Police dash cam video captured Parker slamming Patel to the ground, and jurors watched those videos in court.
Spence said Parker used a standard takedown move, the “front leg sweep” taught in the police academy. Spence said it’s used when a subject is being combative, but he didn’t observe Patel being combative. He also said this type of takedown is “high risk” and he wouldn’t have handcuffed him in this circumstance.
Prosecutors asked Spence if he saw anything that would have caused him to lay hands on Mr. Patel. “No sir, I didn’t,” Officer Spence replied.
The defense asked Spence about the language barrier officers encounter in the field. Spence said police come in contact with non-English speaking residents about once a month, usually Spanish speakers.
Throughout questioning, even in opening statements, Parker’s lawyer, Robert Tuten, argued his client was doing what was necessary to “control the situation,” which is a duty of a police officer in an uncertain situation. “Noncompliant” was a key word for the defense in the first day.
“Mr. Patel was noncompliant. He was told to stop numerous times, as many as three. Mr. Patel continued to turn around and walk away from the officers. He was reaching in his pockets. Evidence will tell you that that is a big, big problem for an officer. ….They don’t let people reach in their pockets,” Tuten told the jury.
Sureshbhai Patel suffered severe injuries from the arrest and was taken to the hospital where doctors had to insert a metal plate into his neck.
The jury viewed photos Madison Police Sgt. Clint Harrell took of Mr. Patel in the hospital. Sgt. Harrell is responsible for making sure officers are complaint with policies and procedure.
The prosecution also called HEMSI paramedic Rachelle Stott to the stand. She assessed Patel when she arrived at the scene, and said his blood pressure was low, he appeared dazed and felt cold to the touch. He could could not stand on his own, and he couldn’t answer many of the questions she asked him also due to the language barrier.
WHNT News 19 will continue to update you as testimony unfolds Thursday at 9 a.m.