Black shop owner reports robbery, gets punched by officer

An Alabama liquor store owner has filed a lawsuit in March 2020 after a police officer responded to a robbery call at his store by punching him in the face and breaking his jaw.

Decatur, Ala. – In March 2020, an Alabama liquor store owner sued after a police officer responded to a robbery call at his store by punching him in the face and breaking his jaw.

The Decatur Daily reports that Kevin Penn filed a lawsuit against Decatur City and police officer Justin Ripen in federal court March 11. The pen is black and the ripen is white.

The lawsuit alleges that the incident was an example of “excessive force” systematic use by the Decatur police department, which the city often overlooks.

The lawsuit alleges that Penn’s constitutional rights were violated through illegal possession, false arrests and the use of excessive force to obtain money.

City Attorney Herman Marks said Thursday that his department has not yet received the lawsuit and declined to comment. Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said he regretted filing a lawsuit but referred the question to Marx.

The lawsuit alleges that the city regularly receives complaints that officers “respond with unreasonable violence and false accusations when a citizen speaks or otherwise speaks of his or her rights as an American citizen.”

The lawsuit also alleges that local officials used “common allegations, such as obstruction of official business, disorderly conduct, and arrests, to prevent the use of force.”

“It is well known in the Decatur legal community that decatur officers often use these charges, commonly referred to as POP (p — off police) charges, without any legal basis,” the lawsuit states.

Penn caught a shopkeeper with an electronic lock and the suspect fell to the ground, Penn holding him at gunpoint. Surveillance video shows Penn unloading his gun as police arrived. The video shows Penn setting the gun magazine down as he approached the officers.

An officer walked past the suspect and told Penn to drop his weapon. “I have the right to own a gun,” Penn denied, according to body camera video.

But police said in 2020 that they believed Penn was reloading the gun. An officer, identified as Ripen, was then seen punching Penn. The video shows Ripen and two other officers wrestling and throwing Penn to the ground and handcuffing him. Penn was arrested and charged with obstructing the robbery investigation.

Penn’s lawyer, Hank Sherrod III, said the use of obstructive government operations charges was “the standard procedure for most police jurisdictions and is used 100% in northern Alabama.”

The lawsuit alleges that city officials failed to ensure that officers were properly trained and supervised.

City leaders were aware of many situations “where citizens had to face unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests and coercion but took no action to investigate and discipline officers,” the lawsuit says.

Penn spent six weeks keeping his jaw closed as soon as he recovered.

Sherrod said allegations of misconduct against Penn are still pending.

“I don’t know why they’re still active or they haven’t set a court date,” Sherrod said.

Sherrod said Penn “quickly” filed charges of assault and false arrest after punching him “and the city did nothing. Mr Penn has not heard from the city to date.”

Ripen was not disciplined, Penn says. Three months after the video was released, no investigation was launched until it was released in June 2020.

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