The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on Wednesday announced an internal investigation had been launched after Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett accused two officers of using excessive force against him simply because he was a black man.
In the same breath, Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said he has seen no evidence of racial overtones stemming from the early morning in question – Aug. 27 at 1:30 outside Drai’s Nightclub, which is inside the Cromwell Las Vegas Hotel and Casino where Bennett was staying.
He said that the officers involved were operating in a hectic scene – responding to shots of gunfire – which turned out to be bogus - inside the adjoining casino and hotel where Bennett was staying and that all officers cared about was everyone's safety. He said that the two officers who accused of treating Bennett poorly were of "Hispanic origin," as proof that prejudice wasn't at play.
As part of the investigation, McMahill said the department will have to review at least 126 videos from the scene – except for the body camera on the arresting officer who allegedly shoved Bennett to the ground and cuffed him, because that officer "didn't activate his personal body camera."
“I find that pretty shocking,” Bennett’s high-profile Oakland attorney John Burris told KTVU on Thursday regarding the body camera void, after watching a video of the Las Vegas news conference. “I can’t to speak to motive, but it’s curious it wasn’t done and it’s a critically important point. I’d like to see police reports at this time. We’re hoping more video comes out.”
McMahill was able to find and show body camera video from a sergeant inside the casino to bolster his theory that the situation was chaotic and that officers were trying to save lives, no matter the color of their skin. The video that police provided does not show the outside sidewalk where Bennett alleges an officer threw him to the ground and told him “I’m going to blow your f—ing head off” if he didn't comply.
Las Vegas police did not respond to KTVU’s written request on Thursday seeking clarification on that point, including the officer’s name or whether he will be disciplined for his alleged behavior and not turning on his camera. Las Vegas Police Officer Rich Rundell emailed on Thursday that the department would not release any body camera video to KTVU because the "recordings are considered part of an ongoing internal investigation."
McMahill said at the news conference that any officer who violated the department's "policies or training" will be "held accountable," but he was not specific.
TMZ, however, obtained cell phone video on the sidewalk showing one officer on a ledge drawing his gun, and another officer cuffing Bennett, who was face down on the ground, shouting that he hadn’t done anything.
Both the undersheriff and Burris hope more people with video of the early morning in question come forward.
Burris said he sent an email and a FedEx letter to Las Vegas police on Aug. 29 seeking body camera video, which as of Thursday, has been ignored. Burris said he has not filed a formal complaint with police and has not yet filed a civil rights lawsuit, although he is considering it.
The issue came to light on Wednesday when Bennett tweeted a poignant open letter, saying that he was in Vegas going back to his hotel after a Floyd Mayweather-Connor McGregor fight, when someone called police to report gun shots.
Like everyone else nearby, Bennett said he hid and then tried to run to safety.
At the news conference, McMahill described Bennett’s actions this way: "As they moved toward the nightclub, an individual later identified as Bennett was seen crouched down behind a gaming machine as the officers approached. Once Bennett was in the officer's view, he quickly ran out the south doors, jumped over a wall onto Flamingo Road East of Las Vegas Boulevard into traffic."
Because he ran, McMahill said, Bennett’s actions were considered suspicious.
And that claim is ridiculous, Burris said.
“He was told to get out of there and he got out of there,” Burris said. “He was told to run. They’re just trying to justify their stop. What caused him to stick out when other people were running too?”
Equality. pic.twitter.com/NQ4pJt94AZ— Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72) September 6, 2017
McMahill said that Bennett was detained for 10 minutes and let go.
Bennett said he was only released after officers realized who he was -- “not a thug, common criminal or ordinary black man, but Michael Bennett, a famous professional football player,” he wrote on Twitter.
Bennett, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, has become known for his activism. Last month, he announced he would not stand for the national anthem, citing the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. - a move he took from former 49er Colin Kaeprnick, who caused a firestorm of controversy when he first starting sitting during the anthem to protest how people of color are treated by police in the United States.
At a news conference Wednesday in Seattle, Bennett described how it felt to be treated like other black men and women who have died – from Trayvon Martin to Eric Garner – and all he could think about were his wife and two girls when he was lying face down on the ground..
“I try to tell my girls every single day that their lives matter,” Bennett said, choking up with emotion.