HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Several colleagues of an Alabama police officer recorded slamming an Indian grandfather to the ground testified about the officer's training record Friday and said the move he used to take the man down was not taught by department officials.
Madison police officer Eric Parker swept one of his legs in front of Sureshbhai Patel, 58, to take the man to the ground face first during a suspicious person investigation in February.
Cheng Tao, the neurosurgeon who treated Patel, has said he suffered spinal trauma, which included bruising, bleeding and swelling of soft tissue. Tao said he removed one of Patel's vertebrae to make room for his spinal cord.
Parker has said Patel defied orders and reached for his pockets. Patel has said through an interpreter that he doesn't speak English, didn't understand the officer's orders and never reached for his pockets.
Patel was visiting from India and was out for a morning walk through his son's neighborhood when he was approached by police. The encounter stemmed from a neighbor calling police about a thin black man walking through the neighborhood looking at houses.
Parker's attorney, Robert Tuten, has argued the stop and use of force were reasonable considering the circumstances and that police are trained to make split second decisions in dynamic situations.
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division prosecutor Saeed Mody argued Friday that during the roughly two-minute encounter, Parker had enough time to stop Patel, take account of his age, determine he couldn't speak English and a second officer was able to start a pat down before Patel was slammed to the ground.
Tuten has said video clips being shown to the jury — which cover the moments before officers got out of their patrol cars to after paramedics were called to the scene to lift Patel off the ground — don't fully capture the circumstances surrounding the encounter.
Martial arts expert Johnny Smith of Cullman, Alabama, testified for the defense, saying Parker had received one of two levels of Strategic Self-Defense and Grappling Tactics training, a program Smith founded that has been adopted as the training regimen by the Alabama Peace Officer Training and Standards Commission.
Smith said the maneuver Parker used wasn't part of the training program and that an officer's use of force should be proportional to the perceived threat. He added that the perception of threat among officers is subjective.
"When an officer doesn't know what to do they're more likely to adapt and make something up on the scene, on the spot," Smith said.
Mody argued that even if Patel had been suspected of a crime, he did nothing during his encounter with Parker to suggest that he needed to be thrown to the ground.
Video that was slowed down and enlarged for jurors showed Patel turn his head to look at Parker while he held his hands behind his back. Patel was slammed to the ground shortly afterward. The motion of Patel turning to look at Parker may have suggested to the officer that Patel was trying to jerk away, Smith said.
Several of Parker's colleagues who were called to testify said during Tuten's questioning that they saw nothing in video of the encounter that was contrary to police training procedures.
During cross examination by federal prosecutors, however, some said Parker's takedown maneuver violated guidelines to use controlled methods to try mitigating injuries. The maneuver Parker used left Patel's head and neck unprotected when he hit the ground, prosecutors said.
"I can't put myself in his shoes, but in that situation I believe Mr. Parker did what he had to do per our policy," said Russell Owens of the Madison Police Department's street crimes unit who is also a field training officer. After being shown a slowed down version of the video during cross examination, Owens said Parker's technique was inconsistent with training guidelines.
Another training officer, Sgt. Nicholas McRae, also initially said he recalled nothing from video of the encounter that suggested Parker acted outside of department guidelines. After being showed the slowed down and enlarged clip during cross examination, McRae said the takedown was improper because an officer's use of force should match the level of a threat. Patel showed a low level of resistance, McRae said.
A Madison police SSGT training officer, Jamie Emerson, said he saw nothing in the video that was inconsistent with department policies, despite leg sweep takedowns not being included in the training program.
Emerson said Chief Larry Muncey showed him the footage "to show me what was wrong in the video, things he stated officer Parker did wrong," Emerson said, adding that he disagreed with Muncey's conclusions about the way Parker handled the encounter.
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.