A Seattle Seahawk has hired a high-profile Oakland civil rights attorney to investigate what the NFL player says was an assault by two Las Vegas police officers simply because he was a “black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Defensive end Michael Bennett, 31, tweeted a poignant open letter on Wednesday accusing the officers of ordering him to the ground on Aug. 27 outside Drai’s Nightclub inside after a Floyd Mayweather-Connor McGregor fight following what sounded like gun shots.
“Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bennett wrote. He also said they threatened to blow his head off if he didn't comply. Later, he spoke at a Seahawks news conference on Wednesday in Seattle, calling the situation "tragic...I hate to be up here at this moment." The team broadcast his words on Periscope.
When asked by a reporter, Bennett said he has never been treated so poorly because of the color of his skin in his life, and he quickly pointed out that others have suffered worse fates than him.
KTVU reached out to Las Vegas police by email on Wednesday, but did not immediately hear back. On Twitter, police said they were investigating the claims and urged people to "reserve judgment."
Later in the afternoon, Undersheriff Kevin McMahill held a news conference where he denied any racial overtones -- adding that the officers involved were "Hispanic." "I see no evidence that race played a role in this incident," McMahill said, adding that officers were trying to protect people of all races that night.
He also said there are 126 videos to review, and that if the pair involved violated any policies, they would be disciplined. He said the one officer accused of shoving Bennett to the ground did not turn on his body camera and that an internal investigation has been launched, even without a formal complaint from Bennett. According to the undersheriff, officers saw Bennett crouching under a gaming station and running away when they spotted him. "Due to Bennett's actions, they believed Bennett might have been involved in the shooting and gave chase," McMahill said. Bennett was detained for about 10 minutes and released. McMahill said he learned of Bennett's displeasure with how he was handcuffed through his tweet and subsequent media calls.
Bennett told officers he only had problems with one officer and he said he understand what happened. An internal investigation has been launched, McMahall said, adding there are 126 videos related to this event. If any of the department's policies were violated, McMahill said, those officers will be disciplined. The officer involved in the situation did not turn his body camera on.
According to Bennett’s version of events, however, he said he was heading back The Crormwell Las Vegas Hotel and Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard at E. Flamingo Street when what sounded like gun shots rang out. Like dozens of others, he ran away, trying to get to safety.
He said a police officer placed a gun near his head and warned him that if he moved, he would blow my “f---ing head off.”
A second officer “forcefully jammed his knee into my back making it difficult for me to breathe,” Bennett said. The officers cinched on handcuffs so tight, Bennett said, that “my fingers went numb. The officers’ excessive use of force was unbearable.”TMZ obtained some cell phone video at the scene, where Bennett can be heard yelling, “"I wasn't doing nothing man! I was here with my friends! They told us to get out, everybody ran!"
He said all he could think about was his wife and two girls: “I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat.”
He said he kept asking the officers: What did I do? He said he reminded them he had rights. “The officers ignored my pleas and instead told me to shut up,” Bennett said.
He eventually was taken to the back of a patrol car and after what seemed like an “eternity,” the officers realized he “was not a thug…but Michael Bennett, a famous professional football player.”
It turns out, McMahill said, that despite the reports of shots fired and the hectic scene in the casino, there is no evidence to date of any sort of gunman or even any actual gunfire that was found.
Bennett has been increasingly active and vocal on social issues, including the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, as evidence by him sitting during the national anthem before all four Seahawks exhibition games this preseason, an action he said he will continue.
He was inspired by former 49er Colin Kaepernick who started the controversial move, and which has been emulated by many others including Raiders Marshawn Lynch and a host of other athletes who have been sitting as a way to protest for equal rights of minorities. Kaepernick tweeted support for "his brother" Bennett on Wednesday.
As he lay there on the ground, Bennett said he could only imagine what other African-American men and women, like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Race and Charleena Lyles felt – dying at the hands of police.
At the end of Bennett’s lengthy tweet, he said he hired John Burris of Oakland to investigate what happened and consider whether to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Burris called on the Las Vegas police department “to be transparent by immediately identifying the involved officers and releasing the officers’ body camera videos of the incident.”
Burris noted that Bennett was unarmed, sober and not involved in any altercations or dispute at the time the police officers arrested and threatened to use deadly force against him: “The officers’ conduct is particularly outrageous in that there was no basis upon which to select Mr. Bennett from a crowd of people all running for their lives. He did nothing wrong.”
Burris also said this behavior is “Exhibit A as to how every black man rich, famous or poor, unarmed and innocent can be falsely detained, arrested or even shot and killed by the police."