Imagine doing a good deed for a neighbor and being arrested for it? That is what happened to a Black pastor in Alabama who was arrested on May 22 while watering his neighbor’s flowers.
Now Pastor Michael Jennings, who is a former police officer, is speaking out about the recently released body camera video from his arrest and said he planning a discrimination lawsuit.
Jennings, 56, said he was watering plants for an out-of-town neighbor when police in Childersburg said he looked suspicious and arrested him. Jennings is a longtime pastor at Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, Ala.
The incident happened when a woman down the street called the police to report a suspicious person and an unfamiliar car in the neighborhood. When police responded to the call, they asked Jennings for an identification, as seen in the video. He refused, claiming he wasn’t committing a crime. Police arrested and charged Jennings for obstruction of governmental operations.
“I’m supposed to be here. I’m Pastor Jennings. I live across the street,” Jennings told the officer with Alabama’s Childersburg Police Department.
“I’m looking out for their house while they’re gone, watering their flowers,” he added.
In Alabama, as in many other states, people are not obligated to present an ID to an officer if they don’t suspect them of committing a crime.In the body camera footage, Jennings accuses the officers of racially profiling him. They deny this in the video.
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“I was trying to cooperate even though I didn’t understand what was going on,” he told ABC News about the arrest. “I was angry, but I knew how to comply.”
The pastor’s wife, Phyllis Jennings, ran from their home, bringing his wallet and identification.
“I was so horrified. I thought for sure he had been shot, God forbid dead,” she told ABC News. “Watering flowers constitutes this?”
When the neighbor who called authorities about Jennings being a “suspicious person” saw him being arrested she approached the officers to tell them that she recognizes him.
“He lives right there, and he would be watering their flowers. This is probably my fault,” the neighbor told the police.
Pastor Jennings is not considering to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Childersburg Police Department, according to Jennings’ attorney Harry Daniels.
“The law is very clear that Pastor Jennings was not doing anything wrong,” Daniels said. “In fact, he was doing everything right. He was being a good neighbor.”
“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,” said Daniels in a statement to NPR.
The charges against Jennings were ultimately dropped, but he said the trauma still lingers.
“This thing came to my mind, that to be shackled and to have your freedom taken away from you, it’s something else. It’s dehumanizing,” he said. “It’s something that gives you nightmares.”
Childersburg Police Department screenshot