MADISON, Ala. — The family of an Indian man seriously injured after an encounter with Madison Police Department officer Eric Parker last year has amended their lawsuit and now alleges that city of Madison officials have condoned police civil rights violations.
The amended complaint on behalf of Sureshbhai Patel argues that prior to the Parker incident, “City policymakers were aware of numerous incidents in which citizens were subjected to unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, and uses of force but took no action to investigate and discipline officers.”
But U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins expressed skepticism Monday about the amended complaint that includes U.S. Code 1983 – civil rights, suggesting it may not survive a motion to dismiss.
“A municipal government may only be held liable under section 1983 if its policy or custom actually inflicts constitutional injury,” the judge wrote.
She added, “There is no freestanding right to well trained government officers, so the failure to train must be linked to the deprivation of a specific constitutional guarantee if a plaintiff wishes to state a claim.”
Parker was charged in 2015 with violating Patel’s civil rights through excessive force but was acquitted in January 2016 by the trial judge after two juries deadlocked and could not reach a verdict.
The amended complaint addresses arguments made by the city of Madison in its bid to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Madison argued in a June court filing that it has immunity. Attorneys for the city argued that the city, as Parker’s employer, can only be held liable for claims arising from negligence.
Parker claimed in federal court that he slipped, causing him to take Patel violently to the ground. Madison argues Parker’s conduct wasn’t negligent, it was intentional and because it was intentional, the city has immunity.
“Indeed, if plaintiff’s allegations of a completely unjustified search of a nonviolent individual who was simply walking down a public sidewalk followed by an unprovoked and violent assault resulting in paralysis do not amount to intentional torts, then it is hard to imagine what would,” the city argues. “For these reasons, the City of Madison is entitled to immunity under Ala. Code § 11-47-190 as to any claims predicated upon the conduct of Officer Parker in this case.”
The amended claim filed by Patel’s attorney Hank Sherrod alleges a number of civil rights violations by Parker and the city of Madison.
The amended complaint says Parker violated federal law through an illegal seizure, an unlawful search, use of excessive force and state law through assault and battery against Patel.
During his two federal trials, Parker’s attorneys argued he was responding to a resident’s call about a suspicious man walking in a Madison neighborhood. They contend Patel’s refusal to follow simple commands from Parker led to Parker attempting to restrain him.
The lawsuit argues Patel was simply walking down the street where his son lives and there was no reason to detain him or search him.
“Patel told the officers ‘no English,’ ‘Indian,’ ‘walking,’ and pointed down the street and said ‘house number [actual number],’” the lawsuit claims. “This stop was without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and was illegal.”
The lawsuit claims the city of Madison failed to train its police officers on determining if a stop was permissible and whether a weapons search was justified.
The filing also contends Madison’s policy and custom led to Parker confronting and injuring Patel.
Parker’s attorneys argued he was engaged in normal law enforcement activity in the questioning and search of Patel. Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey had moved to fire Parker after the incident, arguing the stop was not justified.
But several Madison Police Department officers testified at Parker’s trials that they saw his actions as within department policy. Parker was serving as a field training officer (FTO) at the time of the encounter with Patel.
“In treating Patel as he did, Parker, the FTO, was teaching the trainee with him about how the job of a Madison police officer is really done,” the lawsuit contends. “Thus, multiple FTOs testified in Parker’s criminal trials that Parker’s actions were consistent with Madison policy and training.”
Muncey was critical of the officers’ testimony, saying Parker’s actions were not within policy. But Muncey got himself in trouble by contacting officers who had testified on Parker’s behalf, while the trial was still ongoing.
Muncey was later convicted of contempt of court by U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala, the same judge who acquitted Parker.
Muncey is on leave while appealing his conviction. The city of Madison is evaluating his job status. WHNT News 19 has learned a number of the officers who testified on Parker’s behalf filed grievances against Muncey for criticizing the testimony during an interview he gave to WHNT News 19.
Patel’s lawsuit maintain Parker’s actions weren’t an isolated incident.
“The City’s policies and customs described above, including those regarding stops, weapons patdowns, abusive charges, investigations of citizen complaints, and constitutional violations in general, were the moving force behind Parker’s violations of Patel’s constitutional rights,” the lawsuit contends.
Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on Monday granted Patel’s motion to file an amended complaint and gave Patel’s attorneys 20 days for a formal filing.