The call had come in to police that February morning from a wary neighbor: A suspicious person was walking in his Madison, Ala. neighborhood. A “skinny black guy,” the caller described him.
Officer Charles Spence drove around the neighborhood and saw a skinny man walking on the sidewalk. But the man was Indian, so he kept going, Spence testified in court Wednesday, according to AL.com.
Minutes later, Spence pulled up to a scene where officer Eric Parker had stopped the same man. His dashboard camera captured the rapid series of events: Parker and another officer stood beside the man, then seconds later, a leg sweep, and Sureshbhai Patel was slammed face-down on the ground.
Patel, a 57-year-old Indian man, suffered serious injuries, and doctors feared that he might never walk again.
Parker is now on trial facing federal charges for his actions that day, which sparked national and international outrage. Parker was fired, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bently, a Republican, apologized to the Indian government for the treatment of one of its citizens while he was a visitor on U.S. soil.
In court Wednesday, a fellow officer who also responded to the scene testified that Patel didn’t fit the description given by the caller and that he appeared to pose no threat to Parker before he was forcefully taken down.
According to AL.com, asked by prosecutors whether at any time Spence observed a threat to Parker’s safety, he replied: “No, sir, I did not.”
Patel’s shoes had flown off his feet and his nose was bleeding as he lay face down on the ground.
From the beginning, things seemed amiss, reported a paramedic who arrived at the scene.
Rachelle Stott initially thought Patel had suffered a stroke. Police and fire personnel on the scene never mentioned that he had been slammed to the ground, she said.
“I thought it was very odd,” she testified, according to AL.com.
In other testimony, Parker’s supervisor said Parker didn’t report that he had used a leg sweep to take Patel down, reported AL.com:
The federal prosecutors also called Sgt. Clint Harrell, who was a corporal at the time and Parker’s direct supervisor.
Harrell said Parker did not acknowledge performing a leg sweep until he watched the video later. Harrell also said he ordered Parker to revise his report on the incident to add more details. But when asked, Harrell said his own report was rejected by department officers and he was told to include fewer details.
In Parker’s defense, his attorney Robert Tuten argued that Patel — who did not speak English — was non-compliant.
He reached into his pockets, which police simply do not allow.
“If he had just complied, none of this would have happened,” Tuten said, according to AL.com. “It was unfortunate, yes, but it was also reasonable and it was not a crime.”
Police have to “presume the worst,” Tuten added, and that is exactly what Parker did.
Patel, who underwent spinal surgery and was partially paralyzed in his arms and legs after the incident, can now walk with the assistance of a walker. He gets around by dragging his left leg, his son told AL.com.
In his own testimony, Patel said through a translator that for the few days that he had been in the neighborhood visiting his son and grandson, he took a walk every morning.
He generally stayed on the walkway near the road, and never wandered farther than 10 or 11 houses away from his son’s, according to WHNT.
That morning, officers pulled up behind him and began shouting. Patel said he stopped and replied “No English, no English.”
In dashboard camera video released by police, Parker and a trainee who responded to the scene questioned Patel. At one point, one of the officers said: “He’s saying ‘no English,’ he doesn’t understand what you’re saying.”
Seconds later, Patel was on the ground.
“Mr. Patel was noncompliant,” Tuten told the jury Wednesday. “He was told to stop numerous times, as many as three. Mr. Patel continued to turn around and walk away from the officers.”
“He was reaching in his pockets. Evidence will tell you that that is a big, big problem for an officer,” he added. “They don’t let people reach in their pockets.”
The defense will resume their argument Thursday. If convicted, Parker faces up to 10 years in prison.