Justice

Judge Tosses Charges Against Alabama Police Officer Who Left Unarmed Grandfather Paralyzed

CREDIT: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Sureshbhai Patel steadies himself with a walker as he arrives at the federal courthouse before start of a trial against Madison, Ala., police officer Eric Sloan Parker, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Huntsville, Ala. Patel, who was visiting relatives from his native India in February, was walking in his son's neighborhood when police responding to a call about a suspicious person stopped to question him. A police video captured an officer slamming the man to the ground, partially paralyzing him.

After two deadlocked juries, a federal judge has nixed a third attempt to try the case against the officer who tackled 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel in Madison, Alabama. Officer Eric Parker had been facing up to 10 years in prison for using excessive force against the Indian citizen who was visiting his grandson.

While taking a stroll around his family’s neighborhood in February last year, Patel was stopped and questioned by Parker and an officer-in-training. Videos from two dashcams show that Patel is clearly unable to speak English and answer the questions. He points and tries to walk in the direction of his family’s home, before he is handcuffed. After restraining Patel, Parker slams him to the ground. The 57-year-old was partially paralyzed and unable to walk after the incident.

Parker testified that he was afraid Patel had a hidden weapon he was reaching for, and maintains he did not tackle the man, but rather lost his balance and fell.

But Police Chief Larry Muncey said at the time that Parker’s actions were not justified, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) issued a formal apology to the Indian government for the incident. Parker was fired from the police force and arrested for assault.

Yet Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala threw out the case late Wednesday, saying in a 92-page opinion that federal prosecutors had tried and failed over the course of two trials last year to secure a conviction. While calling what happened a “tragedy,” she seemed to suggest Patel was responsible in part for the rough treatment he received, noting in her ruling that Patel committed a misdemeanor by leaving his home without identification, and noting the grandfather should have known some basic English because it was not his first visit to the United States.

The trials ended with a jury split along race and gender lines. Ten white males pushed to acquit and two black female jurors pushed for guilty. Now, Parker may face a state charge of misdemeanor assault that had been on hold pending the outcome of the federal trial.

The Alabama trial is just the latest in a series of high profile cases against police officers that have ended in a mistrial. In mid-December, one of the Baltimore police officers charged with giving 25-year-old Freddie Gray a fatal “rough ride” walked free after the trial concluded with a hung jury. In August, the case against the Charlotte, North Carolina police officer who killed unarmed Jonathan Ferrell also ended in a mistrial. Ferrell, a former college football player, had been seeking help after a car accident when police fired 12 bullets, 10 of which struck him.