After a second trial ended in a mistrial due to jury deadlock late last year, a judge has now granted a motion of acquittal filed by defense attorneys to dismiss the case against Alabama police officer Eric Parker, who stood accused of using excessive force in his arrest of an elderly Indian grandfather in February of last year. Prosecutors had been seeking a third trial against the police officer.
Sureshbhai Patel, who was 57 at the time of the attack and who had just arrived in the United States to help care for his infant grandchild, was walking in the early morning of February 6, 2015, when he was approached by two police officers including Officer Parker. Police were responding to a call of a suspicious “skinny Black guy” in the area. Patel, who doesn’t speak much English, was detained and being handcuffed when dashcam video (after the jump) shows Parker suddenly slamming an otherwise cooperative and non-violent Patel to the pavement. The injury left the elderly man permanently paralyzed and reliant on a walker for mobility.
Parker’s defense claimed that the attack on Patel was justified because the elderly Indian man was not being compliant to officer’s directions to take his hands from his pockets. Prosecutors reiterated that Patel doesn’t speak English, and that his understanding of the officer’s instructions was likely limited; in addition, video appears to show Patel with his hands behind his back — and out of his pockets — at the time of the assault.
However, after a second jury failed to reach a consensus that Parker had violated Patel’s civil rights in using excessive force against him during the arrest, Judge Madeline Haikala issued a 92-page opinion throwing the case against Parker out. In her opinion, Haikala reportedly said that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate sufficient evidence against Parker that would eliminate all reasonable doubt of his guilt. Via the BBC:
“The court has no reason to expect a different result in a subsequent trial given the totality of the evidence that the parties have provided,” Ms Haikala wrote.
Recently unsealed court documents further show that privately, Haikala was extremely dismissive of the prosecution’s case against Parker. She admonished prosecutors for bringing up the possibility of racial bias influencing Parker’s actions when she apparently thought the case had nothing to do with race. Clearly, Judge Haikala has not properly considered the impact of implicit bias on the split-second decision-making of police.
Although Parker has been acquitted of the federal civil rights charges against him with this decision, a charge of third degree assault — a misdemeanor crime that carries a maximum of one year in jail — filed by the state of Alabama is still pending. State prosecutors had put the assault charge on hold to await the outcome of the federal civil rights case. With Judge Haikala’s decision, a conference to decide whether to go forward with the state charges against Parker has been scheduled for early February.
The Patel family has also filed a civil suit against Officer Eric Parker.
This final outcome for the federal charges against Parker are symptomatic of a structural problem in this country’s justice system. Although police officers must operate with a certain legal authority in order to perform their duties, the justice system goes too far in protecting police from being held accountable for actions that violate the powers of their office. On the flawed assumption that to prosecute and convict a cop who does their job badly would endanger the many cops who do their jobs well, our courts instead turn a blind eye to indefensible criminal behaviour. In so doing, our justice system fails Sureshbhai Patel, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Fong Lee, and all the other victims of unjustified police violence — predominantly Black men and women — whose assailants routinely escape justice.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to receive donations for the Patel family, and has currently collected more than $200,000 dollars.