Childersburg, AL — On the day he was kidnapped and thrown in a cage, Pastor Michael Jennings had harmed no one, committed no crime and was actually being a good neighbor. He never thought that being asked to water his friend's flower bed would lead to such a police interaction but thanks to ignorant and apparently-racial profiling cops in Alabama, that's exactly what happened. Now, the taxpayers of Alabama will be held liable for the actions of the cops.
According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, Jennings, a longtime pastor at Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, Ala., is being represented in his newly filed federal lawsuit by national civil rights attorney, Harry Daniels, and attorneys Bethaney Embry Jones, Joi Travis and Roderick Van Daniels. They hosted a news conference Saturday with the Alabama NAACP to discuss the case.
"I'm here for accountability, and I'm here for justice," Jennings said.
"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," Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton said in a statement to NPR.
As we reported at the time, Jennings was kidnapped by police in May — his kidnappers, two officers with the Childersburg police department. The entire interaction was captured on video.
According to police, they showed up at Jennings' neighbor's house that day claiming they received a call about a suspicious person. Being that Jennings has lived in the neighborhood for years and is long time friends of his neighbors, he is hardly suspicious yet police would use this claim to violate his rights.
As the video shows, Jennings is literally watering his neighbor's flowers when police show up because this is exactly what his neighbors had asked. When the unidentified officer asks the pastor what he is doing, Jennings told him that he had just gotten back from conducting church and he stopped at his neighbor's home to water their flowers because they had asked him to do so.
The officer didn't believe Jennings, however, and he just knew that this Black man in someone else's yard had to be up to no good. Instead of realizing that criminals don't go to the homes of strangers and water their flowers, the officer continued to press Jennings before demanding his ID.
Before the officer demanded his ID, Jennings had identified himself by name and told the officer he lived across the street and had permission to be there. The incident should have ended at this point but it did not.
When Jennings asserts his rights by refusing to show his ID, the officers follow him, put him in handcuffs, and place him under arrest — for watering his neighbor's flowers.
“He is going to be so pissed when I tell him I got arrested for watering his flowers,” Jennings said of his neighbor after police had him in handcuffs.
Even after another neighbor came outside and vouched for Jennings, telling police that he is in fact good friends with the people who own the house and that he was likely looking after it, the officers proceeded to kidnap him anyway.
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As they are loading him into the patrol car, Jennings is in utter disbelief about what is happening.
“Y’all racially profiled me,” Jennings said.
“We’re not racially profiling you,” the unidentified officer responded.
“Yes, you did,” replied Jennings.
“No sir, no sir,” the arresting officer said. “We’re not about that okay?”
“I told you I was here watering flowers,” Jennings responded.
“How do we know that’s the truth,” the officer asked.
“I had the water hose in my hand! I was watering the flowers,” Jennings said as he laughed in disbelief before being thrown in the back of a cruiser and brought to jail.
As he had committed no crime, officers then fabricated the charge of "obstructing government operations" to justify kidnapping the innocent man. Fortunately, those charges were eventually thrown out but the damage had been done which is the impetus behind Jennings' recent lawsuit.
Daniels, one of three attorneys representing Jennings, says that this is a clear case of police violating the rights of an innocent man.
“It represents an abuse of police powers. It represents racial profiling and it represents law-enforcement officers intimidating a person who actually understands and knows their rights,” Daniels said. “These cases put law enforcement on notice and the country on notice that these types of interactions — thank God that Pastor Jennings had a cool head. He didn’t get aggressive or defensive in a sense, and he complied when the officers grabbed him. But it could’ve went a different way. Pastor Jennings could very well not be here today.”
Indeed, he likely would not be here today if he had done anything other than comply with his kidnappers. This is your security force, America.