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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A second colleague of an Alabama police officer accused of using excessive force against an Indian grandfather said Thursday that he thought the takedown used to subdue the man was improper, and a dispatcher said she helped "stack" the officer's probable cause information by searching for recent incidents he could mention in his paperwork.
Prosecutors called their final witnesses in the second day of testimony in the federal trial of Madison Police Officer Eric Parker, who is accused of depriving Sureshbhai Patel, 58, of his civil rights during a stop on Feb. 6 in suburban Huntsville.
Someone had called police to report a thin black man walking through the neighborhood looking at houses. Police encountered Patel and Parker was recorded throwing the man to the ground after officers made numerous unsuccessful attempts to communicate with him.
Parker has said Patel resisted orders and reached for his pockets. Patel denied the claims through an interpreter on Wednesday, adding that he doesn't speak English and couldn't understand the officers' orders.
Patel said he initially stopped because police were shouting at him — not because he understood what they were saying. Video that was enlarged and slowed down for the jurors showed Patel turn his head to look at Parker just before he was slammed to the ground.
Patel was visiting his son and grandson and had been out for one of his usual morning walks when police stopped him. Patel said through an interpreter that he had been in Alabama for roughly a week before being slammed to the ground and seriously injured.
Parker's attorney, Robert Tuten began the defense portion of the trial by asking Patel's son, Chirag Patel, if he knew that his father not having his green card during his walk was a federal offense. Chirag Patel said he was aware of that, but didn't think his father needed it to walk up the block.
Tuten has argued the officer's use of force was reasonable based on the suspicious person call, but prosecutors have said there was no evidence suggesting Patel was involved in criminal activity or posed a threat before he was slammed to the ground. Tuten has called the encounter an unfortunate escalation of police tactics, but said it doesn't amount to a criminal offense.
Prosecutors played a portion of a phone call between dispatcher Angela Sharp and Parker after the encounter and Sharp can be heard asking whether the call was valid.
"I meant was it a legitimate call. Was the suspect actually a suspect, or was it another random call by a citizen," she said. Sharp later asked Parker during the phone call if he needed her to do "a bulls--- search" for other recent nearby calls in the area to help explain the context of the stop and support Parker's claim that he had probable cause to stop Patel.
Sharp said Parker asked her to search for burglaries and calls about breaking and entering and she scanned months' worth of calls to "find other reasons why whatever had occurred had occurred," Sharp said, "For his paperwork."
During the call, Parker can be heard calling Sharp "awesome" for her help.
Tuten on Thursday sought to have Parker acquitted, saying prosecutors couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he willfully disobeyed or disregarded the law in his treatment of Patel. The judge held off on ruling on Tuten's argument and allowed the defense to continue presenting its case.
Prosecutor Robert Posey said Parker appeared to ignore a language barrier and used a level of force that exceeded what was necessary based on video of the encounter and Patel's demeanor. Prosecutors also accused Parker of lying about details on what led up to Patel being slammed to the ground.
Madison Police Capt. John Stringer said Thursday that the leg sweep takedown Parker used to subdue Patel is not part of the department's training program and that Patel didn't appear to be resisting Parker.
"I thought it was improper just based on what I saw," Stringer said.
Officer Charles Spence was on the scene when Patel was slammed to the ground and testified Wednesday that he also thought Patel's treatment was unreasonable. Spence said the man didn't appear to pose a threat to officers and Parker appeared to have Patel's hands behind his back when he slammed him down face first.
Cheng Tao, the neurosurgeon who treated Patel, said he suffered spinal trauma including bleeding, bruising and swelling of soft tissue when he was thrown to the ground. Tao said he removed one of Patel's vertebrae to make more room for the man's spinal cord.
Parker is being fired by the city of Madison but has appealed and the termination process is on hold until criminal charges are resolved. Parker also faces a state assault charge. Patel filed a federal lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount of money for his injuries.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called Patel's treatment a case of "excessive force" in an apologetic letter to the Indian government.
Testimony is expected to resume Friday morning.
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