(NEW YORK) — A Black pastor who was arrested in May after a neighbor reported a “suspicious person” in a yard watering flowers, said he is considering filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against his local police department.
After returning from his church’s Sunday service, Pastor Michael Jennings of Childersburg, Alabama, said he was doing a neighborly deed — watering his out-of-town neighbor’s flowers on May 22, 2022 at their request — when a woman down the street called police to report a suspicious person and car.
The neighbor who called 911 said she did not recognize Jennings at first, according to body camera footage released this week.
When responding to the call, police asked Jennings for an ID, the video depicts.
After he refused, claiming he wasn’t committing a crime, police arrested and charged Jennings for obstruction of governmental operations.
In the body camera footage, Jennings, who is Black, accuses the officers of racially profiling him, which they deny in the video.
Jennings told ABC News he was confused and “agitated” but feared resisting arrest would have life-threatening consequences.
“I was trying to cooperate even though I didn’t understand what was going on,” he told ABC News. “I was angry, but I knew to comply.”
Phyllis Jennings, the pastor’s wife, ran from their home to the scene after her husband was arrested, 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?”
The body camera footage depicts the same neighbor who originally reported Jennings to the police arriving at the scene to clear up the situation. She can be heard telling the officers, “He lives right next door and he would be watering their flowers. This is probably my fault.”
Harry Daniels, the pastor’s attorney, said he and his co-counsel plan to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Childersburg Police Department on Jennings’ behalf.
“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.”
In Alabama, like many other states, people are not obligated to show an officer an ID if they don’t suspect them of committing a crime.
“The neighbor, a white woman, they asked her, ‘Do he have a right to be there?’ She said, ‘Yes, I believe so,'” Daniels added. “And they took her word as gospel truth. But the pastor who preached the gospel every Sunday, they didn’t take his word at all.”
Childersburg Police Department Interim Chief of Police Kevin Koss told ABC News, “there is no comment” that he can provide at this time “due to pending litigation.”
The charges against Jennings were ultimately dropped, but he said the traumatic memories still linger.
During his arrest, Jennings said he was reminded of a pair of antique handcuffs from the 1800s in his personal collection of Black history memorabilia.
“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.”
Jennings said he is leaning on his faith as he recovers from the emotional toll the arrest has taken on his family.
“My faith helped me a lot because I knew that God would work the situation out,” he said. “You have to forgive people because you can’t judge people and hold things against people.”
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