Childersburg Police Department via AP
The lawsuit also names the city of Childersburg, which oversees the police department that arrested Jennings, as a defendant.
Jennings, a longtime pastor of Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, Alabama, is represented by National Civil Rights Attorney Harry Daniels and attorneys Bethaney Embry Jones, Joi Travis and Roderick Van Daniels. They held a press conference Saturday with the Alabama NAACP to discuss the case.
“I’m here for accountability and I’m here for justice,” Jennings said.
The lawsuit says Jennings suffers from emotional distress and “significant PTSD-like symptoms” that include nightmares and flashbacks.
He is asking a jury to hear the case and determine compensatory and punitive damages as well as money to cover the costs of the trial, including attorneys’ fees.
Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton said in a statement to NPR that there are concerns about officer training.
“These poor judgmental decisions reflect poorly on the type of training Childersburg police officers receive … if they were acting under police direction,” he added.
Lawyers representing Jennings said the release of the body camera video will further pave the way for “legal action against officers and more.”
“This video clearly shows that these officers decided to arrest Pastor Jennings less than five minutes after pulling over, then attempted to rewrite history by claiming he had not identified himself when it was the first thing he did,” Daniels said in a statement to NPR.
Jennings said he was doing an act of good neighborliness by watering his outside neighbor’s flowers, at their request, on May 22 when a Childersburg police officer showed up.
“I’m supposed to be here. I’m Pastor Jennings. I live across the street,” Jennings told the officer in body camera footage obtained by NPR.
“I watch over their house while they are away, I water their flowers,” he said.
After they arrived, police arrested Jennings and put him in the back of a police cruiser – later charging him with obstructing government operations, according to a criminal complaint.
“When they first stopped, I already knew it was going to be something,” Jennings said in a meeting with NRP.
Jennings recalls that when the police arrived at his neighbors, he immediately noticed the behavior of the officers.
“[The officer] parked in back and walked in front. And immediately you could tell by the tone of his voice that I was already guilty,” he said.
In the 20 minute video, a Childersburg police officer approaches Jennings as he is seen on camera watering plants in a yard. Once the officer approaches Jennings and asks him what he is doing, he replies, “Watering flowers.
The unidentified officer asks Jennings if a car parked in the neighbor’s driveway belongs to him. Jennings responds to the officer by saying the car belongs to his neighbor.
Later in the video, the officer asks the pastor if he lives at the house, and he tells the officer that he doesn’t.
The exchange between Jennings and the officer leads to shouting as Jennings explains to the officers that he did nothing wrong. He told the officers, “I told him I’m a pastor. … You want to lock me up, lock me up. … Lock me up and see what happens. I want you to do it.”
Jennings, a former police officer himself, is seen on video handcuffed for not providing officers with his identity.
Charges against Jennings were later dismissed by a city judge in June.
Throughout NPR’s multiple reports of this incident, the Childersburg Police Department did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.
Alabama Law says any officer “may arrest any person abroad in a public place” if he suspects the person is committing or has committed a crime or other public offense – and can demand the name, address and an explanation of his actions.
However, Jennings’ attorneys point out in their statement that “Alabama’s arrest and identification law did not require Pastor Jennings … to identify himself because he was not in a place audience”.