A federal lawsuit has been filed by an African-American business owner against the city of Decatur, Alabama, and a member of the city’s police force. According to the suit and the video evidence, the officer used “excessive force” at his alcohol store in 2020, and the city took too long to chastise him after being told.
On March 11, 2022, the case was filed on behalf of Kevin Penn, the owner of Star Spirits & Beverages, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. In a case emanating from the altercation two years ago, it names Officer Justin Rippen and the city as defendants.
Penn stopped a guy from shoplifting from his store on March 15, 2020, and detained him at gunpoint while calling 911, anticipating the man would be arrested for attempting to steal from his store, according to a lawsuit acquired by Atlanta Black Star.
Penn allegedly “waved the officers in and unlocked the front door” when the cops arrived at his place, according to the affidavit.
The business owner “removed the clip from his gun and put the gun on the counter” at this point, while the officers arrested the offender Penn had invited them to arrestn.
However, after apprehending the shoplifter, the officers approached Penn with their pistols drawn, despite the fact that they knew he was the store’s owner and could see his “gun on the counter.”
According to the petition, “the cops shouted at Penn about the gun.”
Penn told them the pistol was already down but that he was going to “file a complaint” against them for their behavior in reaction to their ranting.
Rippen heard Penn’s warning and “punched Penn in the face, shattering Penn’s jaw and causing him to lose a tooth,” according to Rippen.
Rippen detained the Black man after the assault, which was captured on security footage and by a police bodycam, and “charged him with disrupting governmental activities, albeit there was no probable basis for the arrest.”
According to the lawsuit, the business owner was detained “without probable cause… thereby depriving him of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983.” Rippen specifically infringed on Penn’s right to be free of unlawful seizure.”
Rippen “acted with malice or reckless indifference to Penn’s constitutional rights,” according to the report.
Penn would follow through on his promise and file a complaint against the police with the city. “The City refused to investigate the occurrence,” the lawsuit claims, and “Rippen was not disciplined.”
Penn claims that, like the prior complaint, he filed more complaints accusing the officer of “misconduct, including a frivolous stop and illegal search subsequent to this incident,” and that these, too, were ignored.
The city “receives complaints from residents regarding officer misconduct in violation of constitutional rights and often ignores them,” according to the lawsuit filing, citing the complaint against Rippen as an example.
The Decatur Daily reported that months after the event, Decatur’s former Police Chief Nate Allen finally spoke out about the brawl after recordings began to circulate on social media.
He sided with Rippen at a press conference, alleging that the officer saw Penn reloading his handgun before he was punched.
“We do know there was a gun there, we do know the magazines were there, and we do know he was reloading the magazine,” Allen said two years ago.
The officers and the store owner can be seen on bodycam video adjacent to the counter where the gun was put. Penn informed the authorities of his right to bear arms when they urged him to put his weapon down.
Penn’s response, according to the chief, led Rippen to fear he was armed, forcing him to strike him. The other officers wrestled the man down and arrested him after he was punched.
On or around June 8, 2020, the city was prompted to place Rippen on administrative duty after the store’s surveillance video went viral and revealed a different story.
Allen would return a month later with a statement, telling the public that the officer “had been dealt with” following a departmental investigation.
The complaint claims that “this very case is a great illustration,” because “it was only the public release of video footage from one of Penn’s surveillance cameras that forced the city to even pretend to investigate the situation.” “Policymakers in the city did not condemn Rippen’s assault on Penn or his arrest of Penn.”
After witnessing the CCTV video, Councilman Billy Jackson called for the officer’s termination.
On the day of the incident, Penn was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental activities, a charge for which he has yet to appear in court.
According to the petition, Decatur police officers are recognized in the legal community for charging civilians like Penn with “obstructing governmental activities, disorderly behavior, and resisting arrest.” These charges are referred to as “POP (piss off police) charges having no legal basis.”
Penn also feels that cops aren’t properly instructed on their own authority’s constraints and, as a result, “are prone to break constitutional rules.” He claims that the city is responsible for this.
According to the Decatur Daily, Mayor Tab Bowling expressed his displeasure with the lawsuit’s filing but sent inquiries to his legal staff.
Decatur’s City Attorney, Herman Marks, stated on Thursday, March 17 that his department had not yet received the paper to study and that he would not comment on it until he did.
Penn claims he has suffered bodily and mental injuries and damages as a result of Rippen’s “malice or willful indifference to Penn’s constitutional rights,” including having his jaw wired shut for six weeks.
Penn wants a jury to decide on medical expenses and punitive damages, and he wants “prejudgment and post-judgment interest at the greatest rates allowed by law” to be paid.
In addition, the business owner wants the city and Rippen to cover his legal and expert fees.
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