A Decatur business owner has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Decatur and a Decatur Police officer after the store owner was punched and arrested when he called police in March 2020 to report a robbery at his store.
In a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Alabama, Kevin Penn, owner of Star Spirits and Beverage, alleges he was the victim of intentional police abuse – and not merely the victim of mistaken identity, as Decatur Police have stated previously – and further alleges a history of abuse within the department that is ignored, and sometimes even sanctioned, by superiors and city officials.
The incident at the center of the lawsuit has been widely reported, and video of the incident went viral on the internet.
In March 2020, Penn caught an alleged shoplifter in his store and phoned police as he held the accused thief at gunpoint. Penn waved officers into the store and placed his firearm, from which he removed the clip, on the counter beside him. When officers approached Penn, he had only the clip in his hand.
After officers secured the accused thief, who was lying just inside the front door of the store, video shows them approach Penn and begin shouting. Penn shouts back. Then, officer Justin Rippen rushes forward and punches Penn.
The blow, according to the lawsuit, broke Penn’s jaw and knocked out a tooth.
The lawsuit also claims that several officers in the store that night, including Rippen, knew Penn and knew he was the store owner. The lawsuit said Penn had filed a previous complaint against Decatur Police for an alleged unlawful stop and illegal search.
The lawsuit also accuses Decatur Police of routine instances of harassment against citizens who file complaints, terming such actions as “POP charges,” or “Piss of Police” charges.
“… the City regularly receives complaints concerning officers who, as Rippen did here, react with unjustifiable violence and false charges when a citizen speaks up or otherwise asserts his rights as an American citizen,” the lawsuit reads. “It is well known in the Decatur legal community that Decatur officers frequently use these charges, commonly referred to as POP (piss off police) charges, without a legal basis. It is well known to experienced police officers and to City policymakers that officers, without proper training and supervision regarding the limits of their authority, are likely to violate the constitutional rules.”
The lawsuit accuses the city and police department of failing to adequately investigate charges of police abuse and misconduct, and it alleges specifically that the department didn’t thoroughly investigate Penn’s complaints – either on the night he was punched or the complaints alleging improper stop and illegal search.
The complaint doesn’t provide specific details of other complaints against Decatur Police. The City of Decatur has not yet responded to Penn’s lawsuit.