Ala. Governor Apologizes To Indian Government In 'Excessive Force' Case

Feb 18, 2015
Originally published on February 18, 2015 8:11 pm

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized on Tuesday to the government of India for an incident, captured on a squad car's dashboard camera, in which officers slammed an Indian man to the ground.

In a letter to the Consul General of India in Atlanta, Bentley said he deeply regretted the "unfortunate use of excessive force" by Madison police. Officers there seriously injured Sureshbhai Patel, 57, an Indian man, in a confrontation that has brought renewed attention to excessive force by law enforcement officers.

Patel had been in the U.S. for a couple of weeks to help with a new grandson in Madison, a suburb of Huntsville in northern Alabama, when he was stopped by two officers responding to a call about suspicious activity.

The police video reveals a language barrier.

"He don't speak a lick of English," an officer says, complaining that Patel was walking away. Patel's arms are then restrained behind his back, and Madison policeman Eric Parker slams Patel to the ground, face down. He was hospitalized earlier this month with a spinal cord injury and is undergoing rehabilitation.

Bentley says that state officials will investigate; an FBI probe already is underway.

"Please accept our sincere apology to your government, Mr. Patel and the citizens of India who reside and work in our state," he wrote.

Patel's lawyer, Hank Sherrod, says the family is grateful for the Indian government's support, and welcomed the governor's response.

"They really appreciate the governor making such a public apology," he said.

Nevertheless, Patel has sued the Madison Police Department. The police chief has also apologized and is firing officer Eric Parker, who has been charged with assault.

Parker's attorney, Robert Tuten, says the officer will fight both the dismissal and the charge.

Anupreet Singh, the president of the Huntsville India Association, says his group met with Madison city leaders Monday to talk about ways to improve communication and cultural understanding.

Police stopped Patel after a neighbor called to report "a skinny black guy" with a toboggan hat, thought to be peering into garages.

"I don't want to blame that person for making that call. But I do want to say that people have to know their neighbors — get around, meet them, see what they are about, learn their culture," says Singh. "That's what should come out of this incident."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Alabama the governor has apologized to the government of India for a case of alleged police brutality. Officers in Madison, Ala., seriously injured an Indian man in a confrontation that was caught on a squad car dash cam. The incident has renewed concerns about police and the use of excessive force. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Sureshbhai Patel had only been in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, coming to help with a new grandson in Madison, a suburb of Huntsville in north Alabama. Patel, who is 57, was taking a walk earlier this month when he was stopped by two officers responding to a call about suspicious activity. This police video reveals a language barrier.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: He don't speak a lick of English.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: I'm trying to pat him down 'cause he keeps trying walk away from me more.

ELLIOTT: "He don't speak a lick of English," an officer says, complaining that Patel was walking away. Patel's arms are then restrained behind his back and Madison policeman Eric Parker slams Patel to the ground face down.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You're all right. Put your legs up under you.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: You can walk. You can walk.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Stand up. Stand up.

ELLIOTT: Patel was hospitalized with a spinal cord injury and is now at a rehabilitation center. In a letter yesterday to the Consul General of India in Atlanta, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he deeply regrets the, quote, "unfortunate use of excessive force by Madison police." He wrote, please accept our sincere apology to your government, Mr. Patel and the citizens of India who reside and work in our state.

He said state officials will investigate along with an FBI probe already underway. The Indian Consul met with Bentley this week. Patel's lawyer Hank Sherrod says the family is grateful for the Indian government's support and welcomed the governor's response.

HANK SHERROD: They really appreciate the governor's making such a public apology.

ELLIOTT: Patel has sued the Madison Police Department. The police chief has apologized and is firing officer Eric Parker, who's been charged with assault. Parker's attorney, Robert Tuten, says he will fight both the dismissal and the charge.

ROBERT TUTEN: We filed a waiver of arraignment and a written plea of not guilty for him.

ELLIOTT: Police stopped Patel after a neighbor called to report, quote, "a skinny black guy in a toboggan," thought to be peering into garages.

ANUPREET SINGH: It was definitely a shock for this peaceful community.

ELLIOTT: Madison resident Anupreet Singh is president of the Huntsville India Association.

SINGH: I don't want to blame that person for making that call, but I do want to say that people have to know their neighbors. Get around, meet them, see what they are about, learn their culture, and that's what should come out of this incident.

ELLIOTT: Singh says his group met with Madison city leaders Monday to talk about ways to improve communication and cultural understanding. Debbie Elliott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.