Cop In Sureshbhai Patel Case Set For September Trial
Aug. 20, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The trial of a police officer is set to begin in Alabama at the beginning of September. Madison police officer Eric Parker was indicted in March on a federal civil rights charge for excessive force that paralyzed a suspect. But the fact that an Alabama police officer has been fired and criminally charged is not what makes this matter interesting. In a case where almost none of the facts are in dispute, Parker’s defense seems to rest upon the hope that his jury will be just as racist as he was.
At approximately 9 o’clock on the morning of February 6, 2015, the Madison police received a 911 call from a concerned resident. The caller reported that a “skinny black guy” was “just wandering around” the neighborhood and “walking close to the garage” of a home. He described the man as being in his 30’s, an estimate he was able to give because he was following the suspicious individual at a distance, a la George Zimmerman. The caller confided in the police dispatcher that he was “nervous” having left his damsel wife unprotected with this potential … someone … walking around.
Officers Eric Parker and Andrew Slaughter arrived on the scene and saw the suspect casually walking on the sidewalk, a strip of concrete literally built for that very purpose, which explains why the word “walk” is in its name. The cops exited their vehicle and approached the man, with Parker oh-so-professionally setting the tone with “Hey bud, let me talk to you real quick.” As soon as the skinny, black, 30-something suspect turned around, the cops should have seen that he was actually an almost 60 year old Indian man. But for Parker and Slaughter, black, brown, close enough.
Sureshbhai Patel, the father of Chirag Patel, was merely taking a morning stroll through his son’s neighborhood. The elder Patel had come to Alabama from India two weeks prior to assist his son and daughter-in-law with their newborn child. Unfortunately, he decided to walk around the wrong neighborhood while being brazenly Indian.
When officers Parker and Slaughter approached Patel to investigate whether this 57-year-old man had chosen 8:30 am on a weekday to case houses in his son’s neighborhood, Patel immediately said to them, “no English.” This information did not register with Parker until Slaughter, only a trainee at the time, told him, “He’s saying ‘no English, he doesn’t understand what you are saying.” To which Parker replied, “OK. India? OK.”
Possibly relieved with Parker’s seeming understanding, Patel began to walk in the direction of his son’s home. But you don’t walk away from a cop, especially a cop like Eric Parker, even though Patel had every right to do so. Parker warned Patel that if he walked away from him again, that he would “put him on the ground.” Amazing, with all the training that Parker received at the police academy, he never learned how languages work. We can only imagine how loudly he speaks when ordering food at an ethnic restaurant.
Then it happens. Patel, while both of his hands were being held behind his back, moved his body ever so slightly. This minor movement from an undersized 57-year-old gave Parker the chance to show off the moves he had learned from, say, watching Chuck Norris or whatever violent nonsense he absorbs to make him feel like a real man. In a flash, Parker swept Patel’s legs from front to back and slammed him face down into the grass as hard as he could.
Were there other, much less dangerous or violent means that Parker could have used to subdue someone who was in no way a threat to him or anyone? Of course. But you know what they say. Spare the spine-crushing takedown, spoil the innocent grandfather.
All of this happened within two minutes of Parker and Slaughter arriving at the scene. The Madison Police eventually released dashcam footage from Parker’s and another officer’s car.
The other officer arrived seconds before the assault. One of the first things Parker said to this officer once he exited his vehicle was, “he don’t speak a lick of English.” Shortly thereafter he wonders aloud, “I don’t know what his problem is. He won’t listen.
Although Patel’s “problem” prior to Parker smashing him into the ground was his inability to speak English while being brown in Madison, Alabama, his problem after was a broken back and paralysis. Months later, Patel is recovering, but he has had to endure a constant regiment of hospitalizations and physical therapy and is a long way from full use of his extremities. All because he decided to take a walk while being brown in Alabama.
Once the cops pulled Patel’s face out of the earth, they realized that he was bleeding from the nose and they called a medic. The officers then attempted to get him to stand up. In the second video, you can clearly see Patel’s legs swinging back and forth as though he had no use of them. Because he didn’t. Because he was paralyzed.
After another round of “Do you speak English?” questions, one of the other officers had an idea. “Do you want me to try to get one of those Indians from the Chevron [gas station] over here?” This was a statement that was made by a still-employed cop in America in 2015.
But the cops-turned doctors persisted. They continued to try to force Patel to stand up, finally concluding that much like his “act” of not understanding English, he was also “acting” like his back was broken. It is uncertain how much additional damage the cops did to Patel by repeatedly lifting him up instead of waiting for medics to arrive.
Patel was never charged with a crime. This may seem like an obvious result, but other forces were at work that very likely changed this from just another case of police brutality followed by police cover-up into an indictment and trial for Eric Parker. The Indian government, followed by the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department, got involved at an early stage, putting pressure on Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey to fire Parker and cooperate fully with the investigation.
Parker’s defense attorney, Robert Tuten, has a difficult task. Now that all of the facts are known, it is clear that Patel was not a threat to anyone. But Parker, like all cops, may not face a trial based upon reality or reasonable assumptions. He will face trial as a cop who was, at any moment, seconds away from death or destruction. But his lawyer also seems poised to play the recurring cop-as-victim card as well. In a rather tone-deaf misstep, Tuten had this to say about the fact that his client is facing charges in both federal and state court – “He feels like he’s being whaled on from all sides.”
Although police misconduct and brutality is so often deemed justified based upon the mere possibility of danger (however far removed from reality) U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance has another hurdle to climb. This is Alabama. The same strain of racism that caused the alarmed resident to call 911 infects the population of the Southern state. The “brown = bad” mindset that contributed to Parker treating Patel like a criminal is not exclusive to the Madison Police Department. The jury pool of this suburb of Huntsville will probably have its fair share of people who would also have looked for Indian interpreter at the local gas station (Patel speaks Gujarati, Indian is not a language).
Now, before I get any angry responses from Alabamans who think I am just a New York City liberal who describes their culture unfairly, my mother was born and raised in Alabama and I grew up in the South myself. I speak from experience. Racism is a problem everywhere in this country, but it is not surprising that this incident occurred in Alabama. Plus, your state flag was designed to honor the battle flag of a Confederate regiment and still flies today.
Everything about the Patel incident smacks of a racism that many would like to pretend went away years ago. Sureshbhai Patel was suspected of criminal intent because he was mistaken for a black man. Sureshbhai Patel was assaulted because Officer Eric Parker saw brown skin as a threat. Sureshbhai Patel is now paralyzed because he is not white. Parker may face trial for his actions, but the racist culture that honors suspicion of difference will be his jury pool.