An Alabama police officer already facing criminal charges for an incident in which he slammed a 57-year-old Indian man to the ground has been indicted on federal civil rights charge, prosecutors announced Friday.
A grand jury indicted Eric Sloan Parker, 26, on one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, according to an indictment filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Parker used "unreasonable force" while acting in his official capacity as an officer for the Madison Police Department in northern Alabama and "injured a man by slamming him to the ground," according to a statement by the Department of Justice. Parker is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a review, Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey told the Los Angeles Times.
Parker was arrested last month and pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of assault. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 394 days in jail. Muncey has recommended he be fired. Parker has been with the department a little more than two years, Muncey said.
The man who was slammed to the ground, identified by his family as Sureshbhai Patel, is an Indian citizen. He had arrived in Alabama days before the incident to visit his son's family, including a 17-month-old grandson, his family said.
In a statement released Friday through their attorney, Patel's family said the charges are critical for residents in the community to trust local law enforcement again after the arrest gained national attention.
"For the public to trust police officers, it needs to know officers will be held accountable, and the felony civil rights charges filed against Parker, unlike the misdemeanor assault charge being pursued in state court, more accurately reflect the seriousness of Parker's conduct," the family's statement read.
According to police, officers questioned Patel after a caller reported seeing a "suspicious" man walking around the neighborhood, describing him as a "skinny black guy."
"He's just walking around," the caller said in a 911 call released after the incident. "I was nervous leaving my wife.… I'd like somebody to talk to him."
Dashboard video of the incident showed the officers approaching Patel, asking him repeatedly where he was going and what he was doing in the neighborhood.
It became apparent that there was a language barrier.
Patel, whose family says he speaks limited English, responded, "India," and "no English."
"He don't speak a lick of English," one of the officers can be heard saying. The video later shows an officer throwing Patel to the ground; he appeared to be unable to walk after being handcuffed.
An excessive-force lawsuit filed by Patel and his family claims he suffered "significant trauma" to the spine and that the incident left him "paralyzed."
On Friday, the family said Patel has made "tremendous progress in his recovery" and was able to walk a short distance with the aid of a walker in recent days.
The incident prompted Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bentley to apologize in a letter to the Indian government, calling it a case of "excessive force," the Associated Press had reported.
In the two-page indictment, prosecutors say that Parker slammed Patel, identified only as S.P., to the ground "while acting under color of law" and violated his right to be free of unreasonable force and unreasonable seizure. The victim suffered "bodily injury" as a result, the indictment said.
"He's surprised and bewildered by it all. He's been hit pretty hard by all sides," Parker's attorney, Robert Tuten, said of his client. "His position is that he has not committed a crime, and he's looking forward to his day in court to explain his actions."