'It was devastating': A family struggles to recover from brutal Alabama beating

For The Guardian

When Chirag Patel walked into his father’s hospital room, he saw a different man than the one he had left just two hours before.

Sureshbhai Patel, 57, lay in shock. Dried blood caked his nose. His neck was swollen and blotched with bruises. Chirag lifted Sureshbhai’s arm, and let go. It flopped down to the bed.

“It was devastating,” Chirag said on Sunday, nine days after a Madison, Alabama, police officer threw Sureshbhai to the ground, sparking a civil rights lawsuit, a federal investigation and international outrage aimed at law enforcement in this small southern town.

Sureshbhai had traveled from his farm in India to help care for his grandson, who had been born prematurely. Less than two weeks later, a police officer left him partially paralyzed, the result of significant trauma to the cervical spine.

“This police officer probably wouldn’t have perceived Mr Patel as vulnerable if he wasn’t a person of color,” said Hank Sherrod, the Patel family’s lawyer. “But that doesn’t mean [the incident was] motivated by any particular racial hatred.”

Police power and accountability are at the center of this case, Sherrod said. 

Sureshbhai has shown progress in physical therapy, but doctors have warned his son that it is too soon to gauge whether a full recovery is possible. Sureshbhai still doesn’t have enough grip strength to hold a spoon.

Read more

Sureshbhai Patel lies in hospital. Photograph: Hank Sherrod

Sureshbhai Patel lies in hospital. Photograph: Hank Sherrod