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Alabama Governor Apologizes to India for Police Assault on 57-Year-Old Grandfather

Gov. Robert Bentley regrets a Madison police officer's use of “excessive force” on Sureshbhai Patel in an incident that left the visiting Indian national partially paralyzed.

by VICE News
Feb 18 2015, 3:40pm

Photo via the Patel family

VICE News is closely watching policing in America. Check out the Officer Involved blog here.

Alabama's governor has apologized to the Indian government after a Madison police officer partially paralyzed a visiting Indian grandfather, who had been stopped by police after they were called to investigate a suspicious man in the neighborhood. The officer aggressively threw the grandfather to the ground during the stop, sparking anger in the Indian community and prompting India to lodge a note of protest with the US Embassy in New Delhi.

Robert Bentley acknowledged that Officer Eric Parker used "excessive force" when he body slammed 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel as the man took a morning stroll around his son's neighborhood on February 6.

In a letter sent to Indian General Consul Ajit Kumar, Bentley expressed his "sincere apology for this tragic incident to your government, Mr. Patel, and the citizens of India who reside and work in our state."

"I deeply regret the unfortunate use of excessive force by the Madison Police Department," he added, "and for the injuries sustained by Mr. Patel."

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Parker has been charged with third-degree assault, to which he has pleaded not guilty. Following an internal investigation into the incident, the Madison police chief has recommended the officer's termination. A separate FBI investigation is being conducted.

At a press conference last week, police released a 911 call about a "suspicious" man walking along Hardiman Place Lane in Madison, as well as dashcam footage filmed from two different patrol cars.

The caller described Patel as a "skinny black guy," and claimed that he was peering into people's garages — a claim that the Patel family's lawyer Hank Sherrod has refuted.

Sureshbhai was on his second trip ever to the US, traveling from India to visit his engineer son, Chirag Patel, and his daughter-in-law to help the couple look after their 17-month-old baby.

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Sureshbhai does not speak English, only Gujarati, and answered "no English" when police approached him that morning, Sherrod said.

Police had claimed that when the officers at the scene tried to frisk Sureshbhai, he reportedly started placing his hands in his pockets. They said Sureshbhai also tried to pull away when the cops attempted to pat him down. Sherrod, however, said Sureshbhai did not attempt to pull away, and that one of the cops twisted his arm behind his back and threw him to the ground, planting him on his face.

In the dashcam videos, police can be heard and seen pulling Patel up from the ground and telling him to "stand up," but Sureshbhai's legs sit lifelessly before him on the sidewalk.

After being transported by ambulance to Madison Hospital later the same morning, Sureshbhai could not move, or had minimal movement in his limbs, his family said. He also sustained injuries to his spine and underwent a surgical procedure to fuse two vertebrae. He has since been released from the hospital and is in rehabilitation.

Patel's family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Madison, Officer Parker, and his partner at the scene that claims racial bias factored into the assault. The suit says that Sureshbhai sustained a bloodied face and damaged spine. He has since regained partial movement in most limbs, according to the filing, but his right leg remains paralyzed.