Kandula death case a grim reminder of US cop’s brutal assault on Sureshbhai Patel

New Delhi: The recent development in the Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula’s death case in the US echoes a 2015incident in the state of Alabama where a police officer was acquitted for brutally assaulting an Indian man, which left him partially paralysed.

Kandula, a student of Northeastern University in South Lake Union, died in January 2023 after she was hit by a Seattle Police vehicle driven by police officer Kevin Dave at a pedestrian crossing.

More than a year after the 23-year-old’s killing, the King’s County Prosecutor’s Office said this week that they will not be pressing charges against Dave due to the “lack of sufficient evidence”.

While her case is now being referred to the Seattle City Attorney’s office for review as the family pursues legal rights to obtain justice, police officer Eric Parker was cleared of criminal charges a year after he was accused of using excessive force against Gujarat resident Sureshbhai Patel in 2015.

What happened in 2015?

Patel, who had come to the US on the birth of his grandson, was taking a stroll around his son’s home in Madison Alabama in February 2015 when a neighbour called police to report a “skinny black man” walking along the street.

When police stopped Patel, then 57 years old, on the sidewalk to ask what he was doing, he repeatedly told officers that he didn’t speak English and pointed at his son’s house.

Cameras inside patrol vehicles recorded officer Eric Parker using a leg sweep to take Patel to the ground, which left him in need of spinal surgery and sparked outrage among the Indian community in the US.

Following his vertebrae surgery at Madison Hospital, Patel was treated at the Healthsouth Rehabilitation Center in Huntsville, where he had to relearn how to walk.

In the five years since Patel was slammed to the pavement, the juries couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict in two trials that were held in federal court in Huntsville on the matter.

Following the two mistrials, US District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala in January 2016 granted a motion to acquit, ending the federal civil trial for Parker, who was then taken off administrative leave and returned to work with the Madison Police Department in September 2016.

In 2020, a federal appeals court ruled that there was enough evidence for Patel to proceed with his lawsuit against Parker, igniting hopes for the Indian family.

The lawsuit, filed in February 2015 by Patel’s family, said that the City of Madison violated federal law by allegedly failing to train its police officers, resulting in a violation of the victim’s constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was settled in 2021 for $1.75 million with Patel’s attorney reportedly saying that the case was formally dismissed.

According to BBC, Parker had told jurors that Patel’s actions and appearance were “in sequence'” with those of a burglar.

As of now…

While Patel has returned to India and has to take the support of a walker to move, Kandula’s family in Andhra Pradesh continues to seek justice for the daughter who left forever.

In a statement sent to KIRO 7 news channel on February 21, the family said that they will take legal recourse to secure justice for Kandula as the city of Seattle has failed to do so.

“We are shocked and disappointed that the King County Prosecutor’s office has failed to criminally charge the Seattle police officer whose reckless behavior killed Jaahnavi Kandula,” the statement read.

“We are pursuing our legal rights to obtain justice for Jaahnavi even though the city of Seattle has failed to do so.”

The Indian Consulate said that they are awaiting the “completion of Seattle Police’s administrative investigation and will continue to monitor progress in the case”.

They have also raised the matter with the local authorities, including Seattle Police, for appropriate redress.

The recent Indian deaths in US

More than five Indians, mostly students, have died in quick succession in the US, seen as a land of opportunity by the community, since the start of this year.

Vivek Saini, a 25-year-old student from Haryana, was hit 50 times on the head with a hammer by a homeless drug addict in Georgia.

The death of a 23-year-old Purdue University student Sameer Kamath in Indiana at the beginning of this month was ruled as suicide, according to the Warren County Coroner’s office.

Neel Acharya, 19, also a Purdue University student was found dead outside a building on the campus after he went missing late in January. The Tippecanoe County Coroner’s Office said no signs of trauma or significant injuries were found during the autopsy.

G Dinesh, 22, from Wanaparthy in Telangana, and Nikesh, 21, from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, were found dead in January this year under suspicious conditions at their Connecticut accommodation

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