Home Pastors Black pastor arrested while watering neighbour’s flowers, video shows

Black pastor arrested while watering neighbour’s flowers, video shows

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Michael Jennings was watering flowers for his out-of-town neighbor in May when an officer approached him. Within minutes he was arrested, handcuffed and in the back of a police cruiser, video released by his lawyer this week shows.

“I’m supposed to be here. I am Pastor Jennings. I live across the street,” he told the officer during the May 22 exchange in his neighbor’s driveway in Childersburg, Ala.

“I watch over their house while they are away, I water their flowers,” he added.

The 20 minute video captured his subsequent arrest. An initially friendly encounter with three officers escalated when Jennings refused to show ID, accused police of racially profiling him, threatened to sue and dared them to arrest him. After the two sides got into a shouting match, officers did just that, accusing Jennings in the video of obstructing a government operation, a charge that was dismissed in June by a city judge, one of his lawyers, Harry Daniels, in A declaration.

The Childersburg Police Department did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment Thursday evening. Jennings said ABC News he cooperated with the police even though he was agitated because he feared being shot.

“Being chained and having your freedom taken away is something else. It’s dehumanizing, and I thought, ‘Why would they do that?’ It’s something that gives you nightmares,” he said during the interview. Jennings, 56, was a pastor at Vision of Abundant Life Church for over 30 years.

Jennings’ account echoes events in recent years in which police have been called to black people engaged in everyday activities – grilling, swimming in a pool, viewing a home with a real estate agent, bird watching or trying to get into their own building. In one incident in 2018, a white woman in San Francisco threatened to call the police about an 8-year-old girl selling bottled water without a license. Such incidents led people to create the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack.

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The chain of events that ended with Jennings’ arrest began when one of his neighbors, not recognizing him, called 911 to report a suspicious person outside his neighbors’ house. The couple who lived there had left town.

Body camera video shows that when the first officer arrived, he greeted Jennings with a “Hi,” and Jennings responded by saying, “Hey, man, how are you?” It went from there.

The officer told Jennings that someone had called the police to report a strange man around the house who was “not supposed to be here”. Jennings identified himself as “Pastor Jennings” and said he lived across the street. When the officer asked for ID to prove this, Jennings balked, saying he had done nothing wrong.

“You want to lock me up, lock me up. I’m not showing you anything,” Jennings said. “I will continue to water these flowers. I don’t care who called you. Lock me up and see what happens.

Alabama Law allows law enforcement to require a person in a public space to identify themselves, give their address and explain their actions if the officer “reasonably suspects” that person has committed or is about to commit a crime or other public offence.

In their statement, Jennings’ attorneys said their client did not have to provide police with identification because “he was not in a public place.”

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After refusing to provide identification, Jennings walked away. Officers followed him and handcuffed him before the two parties got into a shouting match. The officer who first approached Jennings then proceeded to arrest him, the video shows.

Minutes later, after Jennings was handcuffed and in the back of the cruiser, the woman who called police came out to speak to officers at their request, the video shows. She told police she knew Jennings, he lived nearby, and she wouldn’t have been surprised if her neighbors had asked her to water their flowers while they were away.

“They are friends, and they went out of town today. He may be watering their flowers. It would be totally normal,” she said, adding, “It’s probably my fault.”

Jennings’ attorneys said the body camera footage revealed evidence that paved “the way for legal action against the officers.”

“This video clearly shows that these officers decided to arrest Pastor Jennings less than five minutes after pulling over, then tried to rewrite history by claiming he had not identified himself when it was the first thing he did,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t just an unlawful arrest. It’s a kidnapping. It is irrational, irresponsible and illegal.

Jennings told ABC News he was considering filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against the department. Either way, he wants to do something that keeps someone else from going through what he’s been through.

“It’s been exhausting,” he told NBC News, “and I really hope there’s change.”