The neighbour of a Black pastor who was arrested while watering his garden at his Alabama home has spoken out about the incident.
Roy Malim, 66, said when left town with his wife in May, he was confident his neighbour and great friend, Pastor Michael Jennings, 56, would do an amazing job at taking care of his home in the city of Childersburg. Mr Malim and Mr Jennings became acquainted seven years ago when the pastor moved to the neighbourhood.
“He [was the one] to call me and ask If I needed anything, without me even asking. That’s just the way he is, he will do anything for you,” Mr Malim told The Independent on Monday. “He is always the one who waters my wife’s flowers and checks the mail, makes sure there’s nobody messing around the house.”
But a neighbour mistook Mr Jennings for an intruder and called 911 to report “suspicious” activity outside the house, leading to his arrest. The ordeal caused Mr Jennings PTSD and anxiety, he argues in a lawsuit filed against the city and the three arresting officers last week, but he remained committed to helping his neighbour.
“He wouldn’t quit. My wife said she didn’t want him to water [any] more because of what happened,” Mr Malim said. “She told him not to worry about it but he wouldn’t have that. He continued to take care [of the flowers] while we were gone.”
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Jennings’ attorney, Harry Daniels, said that the incident had left his client scarred and feeling uneasy around law enforcement. He said Mr Jennings has a great presence in the community as a pastor at Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, a city 10 miles north of Childersburg.
The suit alleged the officers’ actions and the city violated Mr Jenning’s constitutional rights protecting against unlawful arrest and guaranteeing free speech.
Mr Malim said Mr Jennings is well-respected in the community and he relies on him anytime he has to go out of town, so he was shocked to hear that the pastor was arrested while watering his plants.
“We had left the day he got arrested. We went to Gatlinburg and we had a camper,” Mr Malim told The Independent. “We had gone out for a little bit and when we got back to the camper, his wife called on my wife to tell her that he had gotten arrested.”
“My wife was upset and wanted to come back home. I was also upset.”
But after posting $500 bail that same day, Mr Jennings returned to the Malims’ house the next day and watered their garden until they returned five days later, as scheduled.
“He said he [will continue my flowers]. He definitely will,” Mr Malim added. “He is the guy, I trust him with the house, and looking out for everybody. He is a good guy.”
Body camera footage released in August showed officers confront Mr Jennings as he watered a lawn after a 911 call.
“Whatcha doing here, man?” an officer identified later as Chris Smith asked as he walked up to Mr Jennings, who was hosing plants in the front yard of the property.
Mr Jennings identified himself as Pastor Jennings and explained to the officers that he was taking care of the property while his neighbour was out of town. He refused to provide identification to the officers and was arrested on a charge of obstructing a government operation.
His phone was also confiscated during the 20-minute confrontation.
According to Alabama law, officers can request a person’s name, address and an “explanation of his actions,” if there is reasonable suspicion they have committed or are about to commit an offence.
Mr Daniels told The Independent his client was under no obligation of giving his name to the law enforcement officers but did so regardless.
“Anytime that police come out, you have to identify yourself because there is a reasonable suspicion …” one of the officers can be heard saying on video.
The neighbour who made the call told officers that she had made a mistake and Mr Jennings was friends with the owners of the house and he was likely watering their flowers as they were out of town.
Officers then spoke with Mr Jennings’ wife, who showed his ID, but told her it was too late and Mr Jennings could not be “unarrested.” Charges against the pastor were dismissed within days at the request of the police chief at the time.
The suit names Officers Smith and Justin Gable, and Sergeant Jeremy Brooks. Mr Jennings has requested a jury trial and is seeking unspecified damages.
Mr Jennings told the press conference held with the NAACP on Saturday that he felt like he was being kidnapped during the arrest.
“He made me feel like I was a slave,” Mr Jennings said of the officer. “There are bad police and there are good police, what they did that day, they did with impunity.”
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