Pastor Arrested While Watering Flowers
(AL) – Pastor Michael Jennings’ neighbor asked him to keep an eye on their house and to water their flowers while they were away. Pastor Jennings readily agreed to do it never realizing what it would lead to.
The day the neighbors left, a different neighbor saw Jennings watering the flowers and called the police. The neighbor didn’t realize it was Jennings and said there was a man and an unknown vehicle at the location. She called the Childersburg Police Department and told the dispatcher they weren’t supposed to be there.
Police dispatchers fit calls into categories. The dispatcher sent this one out as a suspicious person call. The officer who arrived parked on one side of the house and walked around to the other side where Jennings was watering the flowers. Jennings would not have been able to see him coming. Once the officer rounds the corner and Jennings comes into view, you can immediately see Jennings is watering the flowers.
The officer questions Jennings and Pastor Jennings explains why he is there, who he is, and where he lives. The officer then asks for identification and Jennings refuses to give it to him. Police officers end up arresting Jennings.
Inherent Bias is Just Part of the Problem
The above are the bare facts of what happened on May 22nd of this year. Throughout the video the police officers insist that their actions had nothing to do with racial profiling. I suspect they truly believe that. Most people don’t attempt to honestly examine why they did something, but there were obvious problems with the arrest.
Why was Pastor Jennings considered a suspicious person? Police officers know that dispatchers fit calls into categories. The officers are expected to make independent determinations once they get to the location and discover what is going on. That is supposed to happen all the time, but particularly in situations like a suspicious person call.
It’s pretty obvious that right from the beginning, the officers bought into Jennings’ activities as being suspicious. Why? What was it that made Jennings suspicious? is watering flowers suspicious activity? If so, then a ridiculously large percentage of the population is suspicious. Pastor Jennings readily answered the officer’s questions. The officers failed to use common sense or reasoning to determine if anything suspicious was actually happening. It wasn’t until he was asked to show identification that Pastor Jennings balked.
Poorly Trained Officers
There’s an old joke that asks, what do you call a medical student with a “C” average? The answer is doctor. It’s a reminder that even though someone has a title, it doesn’t make them all-knowing. There are areas of their education that they did not do well in. The same holds true for police officers.
According to the Good Morning America video (below):
“Alabama law allows police to ask someone for identification in a public place if they reasonably suspect that person of committing a crime.”
Pastor Jennings was on private property, not public property. When he came into the officer’s view he was watering the plants. He didn’t suddenly grab a garden hose and rush to the spout to turn on the water. None of the windows or doors on the house appeared to be open or damaged. There were no burglar tools lying around or piles of stolen items. It doesn’t appear there was a single thing to justify a claim of reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed. That indicates that Pastor Jennings was correct when he said he did not have to show identification.
At one point in the (full) video an officer is yelling in Pastor Jennings face saying he has to show identification when asked. A little while later that same officer is complaining to his fellow officers that Jennings accused him of treating him like a kid. Pastor Jennings was being generous in implying that it was similar to a frustrated parent yelling at a child. It was actually a highly aggressive act.
The original officer gets upset when he can hear Jennings continue to argue and decides to arrest him. Jennings is placed in the patrol vehicle. The officers then discuss what he should be charged with. They consider resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, before deciding on obstruction of government operations.
The arrest was ego arrest made by these police officers. It was not supported by the law and the charge was dropped about a month later. The officers arrested Jennings because he had the temerity to refuse to show his identification. They were going to show him who was boss and it’s going to cost the city a lot of money.
There are three civil rights attorneys representing Pastor Michael Jennings. According to Attorney Harry Daniels regarding the arrest,
“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.”
The white woman who called the police was asked to come out. She spoke to the officers and once she realized who they had, told them who he was and said he was friends with the people who lived at that house. For some reason, one of the officers chose to ask her if Pastor Jennings had permission to water the flowers. (And they really don’t believe they were treating him differently because of his race. Wow.)
The officers, who chose not to believe a word Pastor Jennings said, believed everything the white woman said. When they asked her for her name, she refused to give it, but she was not arrested for refusing to identify herself to the police. Pastor Jennings wife showed up with his wallet and showed them his identification. Police said they couldn’t unarrest someone, which is false and another sign of their poor training, and took him to jail.
There are two videos below. The first is a news video that shows pieces of what happened. The second is the full bodycam video, which is 20 minutes long.