After last month’s trial ended with a hung jury, the U.S. Justice Department is retrying Madison, Alabama, police officer Eric Parker for using excessive force when he arrested Indian national Sureshbhai Patel.
In defense attorney Robert Tuten’s opening remarks on Tuesday, he turned the blame on the Gujarati-speaking Patel for injuries sustained during the arrest, saying, “When you come to the U.S. we expect you to follow our laws and speak our language.”
In the February arrest, dash-cam footage of which can be seen above, Parker and another officer confronted 57-year-old Patel after someone called the police on Patel for alleged suspicious behavior. Patel, who was in the country visiting his son and reportedly does not speak fluent English, did not immediately respond to requests for identification. He also said many times that he did not speak English. When Patel started to walk away from the officers, Parker used a leg sweep to take him down and arrest him. Patel sustained severe injuries and required spinal surgery; he was using a walker as recently as last month’s federal trial. The violent nature of the arrest prompted outrage from American and Indian government officials, and led a federal grand jury to indict Parker. If found guilty of the current excessive force charge, Parker could spend up to ten years in prison.
Last month’s hung jury, which resulted in a mistrial, was divided 10-2 along gender and race lines with the only guilty votes coming from the jury’s two black women. None of the men were black. This time around, after two days of closed-door jury selection, both sides agreed to a jury of three men and 11 women. Four of the women are black.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Posey, like Tuten, focused his opening remarks on Patel’s actions prior to the arrest and injury. According to a report from AL.com, Posey argued that Parker unlawfully threatened Patel:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Posey told the jury that Patel told Parker “no English” five times, that he said “India” three times, that he pointed to his son’s home and kept trying to walk officers toward the home. Posey said Patel made no sudden movements.
“Then Parker starts threatening Mr. Patel,” said Posey, introducing a new line of argument. Posey told the jury how Parker ordered Patel to stop jerking around although Patel appears to be standing still.
“Mr. Parker kicks Mr. Patel’s leg out from under him and at the same time pushes his head and shoulders full force into the frozen ground,” said Posey.
Tuten, while acknowledging that Patel’s injuries were “unfortunate,” alleged that Patel understood the commands, but disobeyed them:
He pointed out Patel had visited his son off and on and had spent about eight months in the United States before arriving a few days before the Feb. 6 takedown.
Tuten said Patel recognized the police, but walked off anyway . “He refused to take his hands out of his pockets,” said Tuten.
Tuten argued that police can’t know if a person is reaching for a gun or a knife or a razor blade. He said police are trained to control the hands for officer safety.
“There are people out there in the world that will kill a police officer just because they are a cop,” Tuten told the jury.
Patel testified through an interpreter on Wednesday. The Guardian reports that Patel repeated his claim that he doesn’t speak English.