Police in a northern Alabama city severely injured a 57-year-old Indian citizen after slamming him to the ground, leaving him temporarily paralyzed, according to the man’s lawyer.
“He was just out for a walk, and apparently someone made a suspicious person call … This is a grandfather who came to help his son and daughter-in-law with their 17-month-old son, who was premature and developmentally delayed,” Henry F. Sherrod, a civil rights attorney from Florence, Alabama, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
Sureshbhai Patel, a permanent resident of the U.S., arrived in the U.S. only one week before the incident occurred. His son Chirag Patel, an engineer, flew him from the small Indian town of Pij to live with them in Huntsville, a suburban town next to Madison, according to Sherrod, who described the neighborhood as affluent.
While he was out for a walk in his new neighborhood on Friday morning, Patel was stopped by two Madison police officers who said they were responding to a suspicious person call.
When the officers began to question him, Patel said “no English” and “India” as he tried to point to his son’s house and repeated the house number. Sherrod said Patel was walking on the sidewalk and not acting suspiciously.
Unable to communicate with Patel, the officers began patting him down before they claimed the man put his hands in his pockets and “slammed him to the ground,” Sherrod said.
The attack left Patel bleeding from the face, paralyzed and in need of surgery to fuse two vertebrae, local news website AL.com reported. He remains hospitalized.
“I think it was because he looked brown,” Sherrod said, adding that the two police officers involved were white. Only one of the two policemen was responsible for the injuries, he added.
Madison police on Monday issued a statement saying that the officer responsible for Patel’s injuries has been suspended and that they were investigating his use of force, according to AL.com.
The family has decided file suit for damages, including Patel’s medical bills, which will likely be in excess of $100,000 dollars even if he makes a full recovery, according to Sherrod, who met with the family on Tuesday.
Sherrod, who visited Patel at the hospital Tuesday, said Patel had regained movement of his arms but was not yet able to grip with his hands. Patel also regained limited use of his left leg, but his right remained paralyzed, Sherrod said.
In addition to damages, the family is suing to obtain audio and video evidence taken by the police officers during the incident. It had not been released to the public because the Madison police department said the recordings were evidence in the investigation.
Sherrod criticized the incident as evidence that use of force by police is an issue that extends beyond people who are poor or African-American. “It can happen to anyone,” he said. “It just takes a little bit of a miscommunication and the officer thinks violence is the solution,” Sherrod said.