Black pastor handcuffed while watering plants sues police officers

“I’m here for accountability, and I’m here for justice,” says Michael Jennings, who is seeking monetary damages and a trial by jury

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A Black pastor who was arrested last spring while watering his neighbor’s flowers in central Alabama has made good on his promise to file a lawsuit over the incident.

Michael Jennings sued the city of Childersburg and the police officers involved in the arrest, NPR reports. The suit was filed on Friday and names three officers, according to the Associated Press.

The May 22 detainment of Jennings, a longtime faith leader at Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, Alabama, was prompted by an errant 911 call by a white neighbor.

This image captured from bodycam video released by the Childersburg (Ala.) Police Department and provided by attorney Harry Daniels shows Michael Jennings, left, in custody in Childersburg, Ala., on Sunday, May 22, 2022. (Childersburg Police Department via AP)

In the lawsuit, Jennings said he suffers “significant PTSD type symptoms” and other mental health ailments after Amber Roberson dialed the police, according to NPR. Jennings was later confronted by police as he tended to an out-of-town neighbor’s flowers.

Jennings seeks unspecified financial damages and a trial by jury, along with compensation for filing expenses and attorney fees, NPR reported.

The Alabama NAACP and Jennings discussed the lawsuit at a press conference on Saturday.

“I’m here for accountability, and I’m here for justice,” said Jennings, who is represented by national civil rights attorney Harry Daniels, Bethaney Embry Jones, Joi Travis and Roderick Van Daniels.

In the May 911 call, Roberson described seeing a “younger Black male” at the house of an out-of-town neighbor, per a transcript of the call obtained by The Associated Press.

Body camera footage shows officers approach Jennings, who is watering plants, and demand he shows identification. Jennings identified himself simply as “Pastor Jennings” and maintained that he hasn’t broken any laws, adding that he is known by many in the community and that he was supposed to be there.

An officer accused Jennings of refusing to cooperate and show ID. Jennings was then handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. When the police car was about to drive away, Roberson emerged and told officers she now recognizes Jennings as a friend and neighbor of the property owner.

This image captured from bodycam video released by the Childersburg (Ala.) Police Department and provided by attorney Harry Daniels shows Michael Jennings, left, in custody in Childersburg, Ala., on Sunday, May 22, 2022. (Childersburg Police Department via AP)

Under Alabama law, a police officer “may stop any person abroad in a public place” on the suspicion of a felony or another public offense being committed, and can order the person to share their name, address and reason for their actions.

However, according to the statement from Jennings’ attorneys, “Alabama’s Stop and Identify Law did not require Pastor Jennings … to identify himself because he was not in a public place.”

“This video makes it clear that these officers decided they were going to arrest Pastor Jennings less than five minutes after pulling up and then tried to rewrite history claiming he hadn’t identified himself when that was the first thing he did,” Daniels said in a statement, per NPR.

Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP, told the outlet that the incident suggests inadequate response training on behalf of the Childersburg Police Department.

“These poor judgment decisions reflect poorly on the type of training the Childersburg police officers receive … if they were acting in accordance within police guidelines,” Simelton said in a statement.

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