Challen Stephens, the reporter and editor from Alabama who broke the story on Sureshbhai Patel’s police assault which left him partly paralysed, says that the officer was probably demonstrating a violent technique to his junior, given that there were not many “opportunities” in Madison which is a quiet city.
In an email interview to The Sunday Express, Stephens said to a question on why the officer, Eric Parker, behaved the way he did, “The officer was training a new recruit. The training scenario could have played a role in how he handled this situation. Madison is a quiet city. There are not many opportunities to demonstrate such violent techniques. Clearly the inability to communicate played a major role in this incident. But that is in no way the fault of Mr. Patel. Mr. Patel did nothing wrong. The subsequent arrest of the police officer for assault proves this.”
Parker and his trainee Andrew Slaughter responded to a call from Madison from someone who described Patel, 57, as a “skinny black man” whom he had seen strolling on the sidewalk for the second day that day, February 6. The caller also said that in his four years there, he had never seen him before.
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The video put out by the police shows Parker bringing Patel to the ground and asking him questions in English, a language he didn’t understand. Stephens says that descriptions like “skinny black man” are normal for local residents. But it was not unusual in Madison to speak a foreign language.
Stephens said, “As far as an assault on an Indian resident, this is absolutely rare. I have been a reporter in Alabama for almost 20 years and can recall no cases of assault on an Indian. However, cases of police misconduct and excessive force are more common.”
Stephens describes the neighbourhood where Patel was assaulted as a “peaceful” one with “little traffic”.
He said: “The neighbourhood sits within Madison, Alabama, a fast-growing city of professionals and engineers. The income levels in Madison are roughly double the average for the rest of the state. Relative to the rest of Alabama, it is not unusual in Madison to speak a foreign language, nor to be Indian. Madison has about 46,000 people and the national census reports about 925 are of Indian descent. In addition, 1 in 10 households in Madison speak some language other than English”.
Parker has been charged with Class A misdemeanour, which rates up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $6,000. Parker, 26, turned himself into the Limestone County Jail on Thursday and was released on a $1,000 bond. He has a court appearance on March 12.
According to Stephens, “the chief of police said the FBI is conducting an inquiry to see if there will be additional charges related to human rights. Those would be federal charges”.
Patel, who belongs to Gujarat, had gone to Madison on January 29 to help out his son and his son’s wife take care of their 17-month-old son.