One week after arriving in Madison, Alabama, from Pij, India, 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel was stopped by police while taking a walk around his son’s neighborhood. That encounter ended with Patel bleeding and temporarily paralyzed in Huntsville Hospital.
Patel had come to the U.S. to help his son, Chirag Patel, and daughter-in-law care for their 17-month-old baby while the younger Patel works as an engineer and attends graduate school at the University of Alabama.
“When the investigation is complete, we will be open and transparent with our findings.”
According to a statement by the Madison Police Department, a neighbor called to report a “suspicious” person walking around the neighborhood. When the police arrived, “there was a communication barrier” because Patel did not speak English. When he began to put his hands in his pockets, the police officers attempted to pat him down.
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It was at this time that police say he attempted to pull away. Officers then forced him to the ground, resulting in injury to his neck that required paramedics, hospitalization, and later, cervical fusion surgery to fuse two vertebrae due to swelling in the spine.
According to local media, Patel later clarified that he did not stray from the sidewalk and he did not pull away when police patted him down.
“I have instructed the Office of Professional Standard’s Lieutenant to conduct a thorough investigation into the entire incident. I understand everyone’s desire for immediate action, but that would be reckless, and could potentially lead to injustice,” wrote Madison Police Chief Larry R. Muncey, in an email to NBC News, “When the investigation is complete, we will be open and transparent with our findings.”
The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave.
“There is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin."
“We are preparing to file a lawsuit against the City of Madison, Alabama, and the officer who injured Mr. Patel,” Hank Sherrod, Patel’s civil rights attorney, told NBC News, “The lawsuit will include claims for violations of Mr. Patel's constitutional rights. Presently, however, the City of Madison is refusing to release the officer's name and refusing to provide the media or the family with audio and video of the incident.”
Patel remains partially paralyzed, although the hospital reported him in good condition Monday. His son said that he can now move his right leg a little and he can raise both arms, but his left leg is still paralyzed and he cannot make a tight grip. He had no health problems previously, and he is expected to have a long recovery.
"This is broad daylight, walking down the street,” said Sherrod, “There is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin."