A black pastor who was arrested by Alabama police while watering neighbor’s flowers filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the city and three of its officers.
Michael Jennings, longtime pastor of Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, Alabama, was arrested May 22 by Childersburg officers responding to a 911 call about a suspicious person.
Jennings was charged with obstructing government operations after police accused him of failing to respond to their request for identification. The charges were dropped in June.
He said in a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Alabama that his arrest was “unlawful” and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The suit names officers Christopher Smith, Justin Gable and Jeremy Brooks as defendants, along with the city of Childersburg.
The ordeal began when Jennings’ neighbor, a white woman, called 911 to report a suspicious person, according to the lawsuit.
In a video released last month, Jennings was outside a house watering flowers when Constable Smith approached him and asked what he was doing.
“Watering flowers,” the pastor replied, pointing a garden hose at the shrubs. Jennings went on to explain that his neighbor asked him to water the flowers while the neighbor was out of town.
“I’m supposed to be here. I’m Pastor Jennings. I live across the street,” he said, according to the video. “I’m watching over the house while they’re gone.”
Jennings relayed the same information to Officer Gable when he arrived at the scene, according to the lawsuit.
Officer Smith asked Jennings to provide ID, showed the video, but Jennings refused and said he had done nothing wrong.
As he walked away to continue watering the flowers, Officers Gable and Smith handcuffed him, according to the lawsuit. He accused Brooks, the last officer to arrive on the scene, of telling Jennings he had to listen to the police and “shut his mouth”.
The woman who called the police tried to defuse the situation by apologizing to Jennings and telling the police she knew him from the neighborhood. Jennings’ wife also arrived at the scene and showed police her husband’s ID card, the video showed.
Despite this, officers “refused to release Pastor Jennings from custody and took him to the Childersburg City Jail, then he was booked and transported to the Talladega County Jail,” according to the court case.
Jennings was fingerprinted, had a photo ID taken and was jailed in the county jail before his wife released him on bail, according to the lawsuit.
Below Alabama Law, an officer “may arrest anyone overseas in a public place” if they suspect that person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. Jennings’ attorneys previously said their client did not have to provide identification “because he was not in a public place.”
The police department and the city of Childersburg did not respond to phone calls and emails Saturday seeking comment on Jennings’ arrest or trial. Efforts to reach the three officers by telephone on Saturday were unsuccessful.