HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama police officer slammed an Indian man to the ground for no reason, causing spinal injuries that left the man partially paralyzed, and should be convicted of a federal civil rights crime, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in the officer's second trial.
But a defense lawyer said the man was to blame for his own injuries and suggested he was partly at fault for visiting the United States without knowing how to speak English.
Opening statements began moments after attorneys picked a jury of 11 women and three men, including two alternates, to hear officer Eric Parker's second trial on using excessive force against 58-year-old Sureshbhai Patel.
Jurors deadlocked in Parker's first trial in September, and U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala declared a mistrial.
Prosecutor Robert Posey told jurors that Parker, 27, was riding with a rookie officer as a trainer for the Madison Police Department in suburban Huntsville when the two answered a call about a suspicious person walking in the neighborhood where Patel had just arrived from India days earlier to live with his son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
A caller reported seeing a black man in a knit cap peering and walking into garages on a cool February morning, Posey said, and Parker and the other officer spotted the brown-skinned Patel as they pulled into the area in their police car.
"The officers don't see Mr. Patel doing anything suspicious. He's just walking down the street," Posey said.
After several moments of failing to communicate with each other because Patel didn't speak English and Parker didn't speak Patel's language, Parker grabbed Patel and threatened to "put him on the ground" before slamming the man face-first into a yard, Posey said.
"I expect the evidence will be that there was no good reason for this use of force," Posey said. Later, Parker tried to justify the takedown to supervisors, the prosecutor said.
But defense attorney Robert Tuten disagreed, saying that Parker only responded to escalating threats from Patel in the manner in which he was trained.
"This case is about a police officer doing his job," Tuten told jurors.
Patel kept "jerking away" and walking off from police despite realizing they were officers and understanding their use of the word "stop," Tuten said, and he refused commands to remove his hands from his pockets.
"There are people out there in the world who will kill a police officer just because he's a cop, and (officers) have to be aware of that," Tuten said.
Tuten called the language difficulties between Patel and Parker "unfortunate," but he said anyone who comes to the United States is expected to follow the law and speak the dominant language.
"Here, we speak English," Tuten said.
Haikala conducted jury selection out of public view after issuing an order Monday saying some witnesses in Parker's first trial violated a court order by improperly following testimony through live blogs, presumably of news media outlets covering the case.
Haikala did not identify the witnesses who violated her order to stay away from trial coverage, and her order made no mention of any sanctions. But she issued an order saying audience members aren't to use smartphones and other devices in the courtroom during the retrial, to lessen the chances of moment-by-moment coverage.