Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett says police officers in Las Vegas pointed a gun at his head, jammed a knee into his back, and handcuffed him so tightly around his wrists that his fingers went numb the night of the Mayweather-McGregor fight. Bennett and others around him heard what sounded like gun shots and ran for safety, when police singled him out.
Bennett said that an officer placed a gun near his head and warned him that if he moved he would “blow my fucking head off.”
“I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed facing the real-life threat of being killed,” Bennett said.
Bennett tweeted a letter, describing in full what he experienced on that Saturday night:
After spending time in the back of a police car, Bennett was released without justification for what they did to him. As it turns out, no gunshots were actually fired that evening.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department held a press conference Wednesday and said officers were responding to a call about a potential shooter, and they saw Bennett crouched down before he started running away from them.
“Due to Bennett’s actions and the information officers had at the time, they believed Bennett may have been involved in the shooting and they gave chase. Bennett was placed in handcuffs and detained while officers determined whether or not he was involved in the original incident,” Undersheriff Kevin McMahill.
“I see no evidence that race played any role in this incident," McMahill added.
TMZ released video of part of the incident late Wednesday morning. It shows Bennett on the ground, with him telling police, “I wasn't doing nothing man! I was here with my friends! They told us to get out, everybody ran!”
Later in September, TMZ released another video of body cam footage that Las Vegas police say justified the officers’ actions. In the video, officers can be seen chasing after Bennett and then putting him in the back of a police car where it is explained to him why he was detained.
The video does not show Bennett getting handcuffed, so the defensive end’s claims that an officer threatened him with a gun at the back of his head were not corroborated or disproven.
McMahill said that the officer who detained Bennett did not have his body camera turned on at the time. The LVMPD has opened an internal investigation into the incident.
At the end of the letter, Bennett says that he has hired Oakland Civil Rights Attorney John Burris to “investigate and explore all my legal options” as well as “filing a civil rights lawsuit for the violation of my constitutional rights.”
Burris released a statement, via ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
“Mr. Bennett was face down on the ground when a Las Vegas Metro Police officer placed his gun at the back of Mr. Bennett’s head and shouted don't move or I'll blow your fucking head off.” Burris goes on to say: “Bennett was in total compliance and scared for his life when a second officer for no apparent reason forcefully dug his knee into Mr. Bennett’s back making it difficult for him to breathe.” According to Burris, “Terrified and frightened, Mr. Bennett continuously asked the Officers why they were arresting him and he tried to remind them that he had rights.” The Officers ignored Mr. Bennett’s pleas and instead placed him into handcuffs. They cinched the cuffs so tight his fingers went numb. Burris said, “Adding insult to injury, the Officers placed Mr. Bennett to a nearby patrol car where they continued to physically manhandle and mistreat him while forcing him into the cramped backseat where he remained handcuffed and stuffed in the patrol car’s backseat for what felt like to him an eternity.” Burris states that “only after the Officers confirmed that Mr. Bennett was in fact a Super Bowl Champion and star National Football League player did they finally release him from custody.’ . . . ‘It is important to note, Mr. 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.” Burris went on to say, “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.”
Later in the day, Bennett spoke to reporters and said, “People ask why I sit down [during the national anthem] and this is why. This is the things that people go through that look like me.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and teammate Richard Sherman also stood up for Bennett in the same media session.
“We’re just happy that he’s alive,” Sherman said.
Bennett’s brother, Martellus, posted Michael’s letter on Instagram, with the following caption:
Via @mosesbread72 the call that night was a scary one. The emotion and the thought of almost losing you because of the way you look left me in one of the saddest places ever. I could hear the fear in your voice, the tears in your eyes as well your sprinting heart beat. I can't imagine how the people who lost their loved ones felt when they got the call. A lot of people feel like it couldn't happen to them because of status, neighborhood ("tghat only happens in the hood") or whatever, but it all honesty YOU could be next. I COULD BE NEXT. YOUR SON, DAUGHTER, BROTHER, FATHER, GRANDPA, SISTER, COUSIN could be next. I'm sad that you have to share this type of experience with the world but at the same time I'm happy that it happened to you and you lived to talk about it because we all know you're going to talk about it. Lol. The conversation is growing and I'm glad your voice is one of the ones being heard. You are as real as they come, well at least how they used to come. I encourage you to Continue telling your story and the stories of those that came before. I love you very much @mosesbread72 to me you're much more than a n*****.
Martellus Bennett later opened up to reporters during an emotional interview:
"Sometimes, a hug is the best thing you can give," Martellus said as his voice cracked. "I mean, I don't really know, really -- you know what I'm saying? I don't really have the answers. You just think, 'What if?' You know? Two seconds this way, two seconds that way, the whole thing is different. So for me, I'll just be happy to see my brother, because there's a chance I couldn't see him."
Colin Kaepernick — who started the anthem protests last August — tweeted his support for Bennett:
This violation that happened against my Brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust. I stand with Michael and I stand with the people. pic.twitter.com/TqXFiso6lk— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 6, 2017
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director for the NFL Players Association, also voiced his support for Bennett:
So did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:
Bennett’s experience further explains why he and so many others around the NFL are protesting during the national anthem. He explained why he was sitting during the anthem this season to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche in August.
"I hope that I can activate everybody to get off their hands and feet and go out into the communities and push helping each other," Bennett said. "Sit down with somebody that's the opposite sex, sit down with somebody that's the opposite race, different religion and understand that people are different and go out and join the community and try to change the society, change what you're a part of. If you don't like it, keep changing it."
Bennett references Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Charleena Lyles at the end of his letter — simply feeling fortunate that his situation wasn’t worse.
What happened to him in Las Vegas is exactly what he, Kaepernick, and others are trying to see end in America.