Black pastor arrested while watering neighbor’s flowers files lawsuit

Michael Jennings, a black pastor who was arrested in May while watering his out-of-town neighbor’s plants, filed a federal lawsuit against three Alabama police officers and the city of Childersburg on Friday. The lawsuit claims the arrest resulted in loss of constitutional rights, emotional distress and PTSD for Jennings.

“What they did that day was impunity, thinking no action would be taken against them,” Jennings said of the officers who arrested him at a news conference Saturday. “I felt dehumanized. I felt small. I felt helpless. And it hurt me.”

In the lawsuit, Jennings’ attorney alleges that Childersburg police officers Christopher Smith and Justin Gable, along with Sgt. Jeremy Brooks, violated his Fourth Amendment rights and engaged in conduct that was “willful, malicious, bad faith and in reckless disregard of the rights of Pastor Jennings.”

This image taken from body camera video released by the Childersburg Police Department shows Michael Jennings, right, in custody in Childersburg, Ala., on May 22, 2022. Jennings says he was helping a neighbor watering flowers when officers showed up and he was arrested within minutes. / Credit: Childersburg Police Department / AP

“No reasonable officer in the position of the defendants could have believed that there was a reasonable probable cause that Pastor Jennings had committed the offense of obstruction of government, or any other criminal act, prior to his arrest,” the lawsuit states.

That incident took place on May 22 when Jennings was watering his neighbor’s flowers because he was out of town, according to the lawsuit. A white neighbor called police in Jennings, telling dispatchers that a black and gold SUV was on the homeowner’s property while they were gone, the Associated Press reported.

Jennings identified himself to authorities as “Pastor Jennings,” but refused to provide proof of his identity, the lawsuit states. Officers then arrested him on charges of obstructing government business, the lawsuit states.

The charge was dropped days after the incident at the request of the then police chief, according to the AP. The arrest was captured on body camera footage and was obtained and released by Jennings’ attorneys last month.

Jennings is asking for a jury trial and an unspecified amount of money.

At Saturday’s press conference, Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP, said it was important for Jennings to be vindicated in this case so that others do not continue to have similar interactions with law enforcement.

“He came out of that situation with the ability to get on with his life,” Simelton said. “But we are here today because there are many others in this country and in this nation who have had a similar encounter with law enforcement that turned out very differently.”

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