Black pastor arrested while watering neighbor’s flowers files lawsuit against Alabama police

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

“What they did that day was impunity, thinking there’d be no action taken against them,” Jennings said of the officers who arrested him, in a press conference Saturday. “I felt dehumanized. I felt little. I felt helpless. And it hurt me.”

In the lawsuit, Jennings’ attorney claims 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 “willfully, maliciously, in bad faith, and in reckless disregard of Pastor Jennings'” rights.

Michael Jennings getting arrested
This image captured from bodycam video, and released by the Childersburg Police Department, shows Michael Jennings, right, in custody in Childersburg, Ala., on May 22, 2022. Jennings says he was helping out a neighbor by watering flowers when officers showed up and placed him under arrest within moments. 

Childersburg Police Department / AP


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

This incident took place May 22 when Jennings was watering his neighbor’s flowers because they were out of town, according to the lawsuit. A White neighbor called the police on Jennings, telling dispatchers that a Black male and gold SUV were on the homeowner’s property while they were away, the Associated Press reported.

Jennings identified himself to authorities as “Pastor Jennings,” but refused to provide proof of identification, the lawsuit states. The officers then arrested him on charges of obstructing government operations, the suit says.

The charge was dismissed a few 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 obtained and released by Jennings’ attorneys last month.

Jennings is seeking a trial by jury, and an unspecified amount of money.

In Saturday’s news conference, Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP, said it is important for Jennings to get justice in this case, so that others do not continue to face similar interactions with law enforcement.

“He came out of this situation with the ability to continue his life,” Simelton said. “But we are here today because there are many others across this country, and across this nation, who had a similar encounter with law enforcement that came out much different.”

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