In a federal complaint, a Black pastor who was detained by white police officers while tending to a neighbor’s flowers while they were away claimed that the incident violated his constitutional rights and left him with long-lasting issues like worry and emotional distress.
Michael Jennings filed the lawsuit on Friday evening against three cops and the town of Childersburg in central Alabama. He asked for a jury trial and sought an undisclosed sum of money.
On Saturday, Jennings’ attorneys held a press conference outside the federal courthouse in Birmingham to discuss the complaint. The NAACP, the country’s oldest civil rights organization, and other organizations prepared a rally for the following day in a city park.
At the news conference, Jennings stated, “I’m here for accountability and I’m here for justice.”
In the lawsuit, it was claimed that the conduct of Officers Christopher Smith and Justin Gable, Sgt. Jeremy Brooks and the city infringed upon the rights to free speech and protection against unjustified arrest. He listed a number of ongoing issues, such as humiliation and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Reagan Rumsey, the Childersburg city attorney, did not respond to a request for comment via email.
A white neighbor called 911 in May and reported that a “younger Black male” and a gold SUV were at a residence while the owners, who are friends of Jennings and had asked him to watch their home, were away. Jennings, 56, was then detained.
After a 20-minute altercation during which there were shouting matches on both sides, Jennings introduced himself to the officers as “Pastor Jennings” but refused to show them any identification. He was eventually taken into custody for obstructing government operations.
At the request of the then-police chief, the charge was filed in municipal court and was quickly dismissed. Last month, Jennings’ attorneys made police body camera footage public. The footage came from the city, which is 55 miles (88 kilometers) southeast of Birmingham.
The officers who arrested Jennings, according to NAACP president Benard Simelton, “did so many things” that weren’t in line with good community policing practices.
Simelton said in a statement that if the Childersburg police officers were acting in accordance with police regulations, “these poor judgment decisions reflect poorly on the type of training the Childersburg police officers receive.”
Jennings could have sued the city for damages, but according to lawyer Harry Daniels, that wasn’t done because the arrest occurred well before the legal deadline for filing a lawsuit.