Alabama police officers arrested a Childersburg pastor believing he was trespassing on private property. The preacher alleges he was asked to check on his neighbor’s house and believed he was acting as a good Samaritan by helping out.
On Sunday, May 22, in the afternoon after church service, Rev. Michael Jennings, the spiritual leader of the Vision of Abundance Life Ministries in Sylacauga, was arrested by officers of the Childersburg Police Department after another person from the community called 911 when he was watering flowers on another neighbor’s lawn.
He was charged with obstructing governmental operations but says he broke no laws.
Jennings and the woman who originally called the police contend the call was made erroneously.
Jennings told the station he was actually asked to tend to the property while his friend was traveling.
“My neighbor goes out of town a lot, and they wanted me to watch their house and keep their flowers watered,” Jennings said.
The clergyman alleges he went to his neighbor’s house to water the roses and a different neighbor who didn’t recognize him called authorities to report a suspicious person on the property.
When the officers responded, they asked Jennings for identification, but he didn’t have it with him at the point of contact.
Jennings says officers said to him, “‘Give me some ID’, I said, ‘No, I don’t have to give no ID because there ain’t no crime been committed.’ I said, ‘But what I will do is I’ll tell you I am Pastor Jennings and I live right across the street right there, and I said you can go ask my wife.”
WVTM 13 reports Jennings refused to show the ID to the officers.
“I wouldn’t dare fin to walk or trot over there to get nothing,” he explained. “Because I probably end up with bullets in the back.”
After this initial exchange, Jennings said he continued to water his neighbor’s plants. To his chagrin, the officers then detained him and summoned a sergeant to the scene. Jennings says the sergeant escalated the already tense situation.
“He got out of the car. He’s already fired up,” Jennings reports.
As the preacher attempts to tell them they are “making a mistake” and that they are “wrong” for what they “are doing,” his protest goes ignored. Jennings says the sergeant told him, “Shut up and listen. You talk too much.”
In response, Jennings said, “You don’t tell me to shut up, boy. I’m a grown man.”
That is when he says the sergeant told him, “You going to jail, that’s it.” And said to his officers, “Lock him up!”
By this time, the woman who had called 911 was outside and begged the officers not to arrest the 31-year-serving minister, who is not only her neighbor but her friend. But her requests were ignored also.
Jennings said she said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s Pastor Jennings. He is our neighbor. Don’t arrest him. I didn’t know who it was when I called y’all.”
While the police report details her account, including admitting to them she’d misidentified Jennings as a suspicious person, it describes Jennings less benignly. The reports calls him belligerent and dismissive and alleges Jennings walked away from the officers while they were talking to him and threatened to sue them for racial profiling.
The report, which did not describe him by his last name or titles “Mr.” or “Rev.” said, “Michael kept saying that we didn’t have a reason to be talking to him and that he didn’t have to identify himself to us.”
Jennings denies he was aggressive, unreasonable, or confrontation, but did not deny he believed he was being profiled.
“I think it was profiling and because I did not talk to them the way they wanted me to talk to them, it made them angry and they decided we are going to arrest him,” Jennings assessed.
Though Jennings was taken to and booked in the Talladega County jail, he was released shortly thereafter, saying, “Last I checked watering roses ain’t no crime.”
Getting out is not enough. Jennings is hoping to have his name cleared by the department because the cloud and stigma of criminality for him is “embarrassing.”
“You see all the people, Blacks being arrested for some of the most silly stuff, but being arrested for watering flowers? It was embarrassing,” he said. “In the middle of the neighborhood with all the disrespect I got, being handcuffed and took off, neighbors down there was coming out they house.”
Jennings said more than anything else the arrest meant confronting his sons with the truth of race in America. He said they were raised with the mindset that if you work hard and did the right thing, your skin would not matter. He believes this incident changed that, saying even with his three decades of service to the church, he still was a victim of racism.
He also said he will continue to pray for the officers while they do their work but wants the department to give them more training.
When asked about the altercation, Childersburg Police Chief Rick McClelland said he was not current on all of the issues and declined to speak, promising to complete a full investigation regarding the incident — and said he would engage the appropriate action based on those findings.
McClelland also offered to make the findings public once the review is completed.