Pastor Michael Jennings, who leads the Vision of Abundant Life Ministries in Sylacauga, had just returned from a Sunday service to his home in nearby Childersburg in May when he went to his neighbour’s house to water her plants. He told police that his neighbour had asked him to take care of the plants while they were out of town.
But while he was watering, someone in the neighbourhood called the police – telling authorities that there was an unknown man on the property.
Body camera footage from a Childersburg police officer shows that when the officer began speaking with Mr Childress, the pastor was still watering with a hose. Two other police officers were on the scene as well.
“I’m supposed to be here,” Mr Jennings says in the video. “I’m Pastor Jennings. I live across the street... I’m looking out for their house while they’re gone.”
The police officer asks Mr Jennings to present identification, which Mr Jennings declined to do – telling the officer that he “did nothing wrong.”
After less than two minutes of the recorded interaction, police officers took Mr Jennings’ phone and handcuffed him. Shortly thereafter, police officers began screaming at Mr Jennings that he must identify himself to them while Mr Jennings accused the officers of improper conduct.
At that point, a white woman approached the scene to vouch for Mr Jennings,telling the officers that he lived nearby and that he may well have had permission to be watering the flowers.
“He may, because they are friends,” the woman said. “They went out of town today and he may be watering. It’d be completely normal.”
But even after the neighbour’s intervention, police continued to tell Mr Jennings that he was a suspicous person and that he should have presented his identification when asked – even though he was not committing a crime.
Despite members of Mr Jennings’ family arriving to confirm his identification, the pastor was taken to jail and ultimately charged with obstruction of government operation. The charge was dropped a month later, and now, with the backing of the body camera footage, Mr Jennings said that he is preparing to file a lawsuit against the police department.
Childersburg Police Chief Rick McClelland told Birmingham-based television station WVTM that an investigation into his officers’ handling of the situation will be conducted.
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