Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said he was assaulted by Las Vegas police and is considering filing a federal civil-rights lawsuit.
Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said he was a victim of excessive force and racial profiling by Las Vegas police during an incident Aug. 27, adding that he was held on the ground with a gun to his head.
“It was a traumatic experience for me and my family,” Bennett said Wednesday before practice at the Seahawks’ facility in Renton. “It sucks that the country we are living in now sometimes you get profiled for the color of your skin.”
Bennett was in Las Vegas to attend the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight on Aug. 26.
On Wednesday morning Bennett released a statement on the incident via Twitter, alleging excessive force. Bennett has retained Oakland civil-rights attorney John Burris and is considering legal options, including filing a federal civil-rights lawsuit, according to a separate press release Wednesday.
Bennett also called on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to release the names of the officers involved as well as “body camera videos of the incident.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department undersheriff Kevin McMahill said race was not a a factor in the incident.
“I see no evidence that race played any role in this incident,” McMahill said.
McMahill said the incident began when officers responded to reports of a possible active shooter at the Cromwell Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard around 1:30 a.m. Aug. 27.
In the statement he released Wednesday, Bennett wrote that after watching the fight he was walking back to his hotel when he heard what sounded like gun shots and ran away from the sound. Bennett wrote he was then singled out for “simply being a black man’’ and ordered to the ground. He wrote that one officer held a gun to his head and told him he would “blow my (expletive) head off.” Another officer, Bennett wrote, jammed his knee into Bennett’s back so hard “it was difficult for me to breathe.”
Bennett said he was released only when officers recognized who he was but added that he was not given a reason for having been apprehended.
“I was ultimately released without any legitimate justification for the Officers’ abusive conduct,” Bennett wrote.
During his news conference McMahill said Bennett was spotted “crouched down behind a gaming machine as the officers approached. Once Bennett was in the officers’ view he quickly ran out of the south doors, jumped over a wall onto Flamingo Road East of Las Vegas Boulevard into traffic. 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.”
Watch: Las Vegas Metro PD news conference
McMahill said two officers with guns apprehended Bennett, placed him in handcuffs and detained him for 10 minutes while officers determined if he was involved in the incident. After it was determined Bennett was not involved, he was released, McMahill said. McMahill added that Bennett had the incident explained to him by a supervisor and that “he understood and said he had no problem with what the officers did, just the one that he claimed the officer had pointed a gun at his head.”
It was later determined that there had been no shooting, McMahill said, and the source of the sound has not been identified.
McMahill showed about a five-minute video of the incident but it was inconclusive as to what occurred with Bennett.
There are 126 pieces of video of the incident that the LVMPD will go through, McMahill said, and he asked the public to submit any other videos they might have of the incident. He said the officer who apprehended Bennett did not have his body camera turned on.
McMahill said he learned of Bennett’s complaints about the incident Wednesday and added that the department will begin an internal investigation. He said the officers involved had not yet been interviewed. He also said he is asking for Bennett to submit a statement to the department.
After saying race was not a a factor in the incident, McMahill noted that officers helped safely evacuate many people of all races out of the casino and Drai’s nightclub and added that the two officers that apprehended Bennett are Hispanic.
During his media session Wednesday, Bennett answered questions about the incident for about seven minutes but said he could not go into details. The media session ended suddenly when Bennett became emotional while discussing the incident’s impact on his three daughters.
“I think I try to tell my daughters every single day that they matter,” Bennett said before pausing and then walking away from the podium and out a side door.
Bennett said he was glad to have survived, and that he has a public platform to bring such incidents to light. He said the incident shows that people of color are at risk of being profiled no matter their social or professional status.
“There are a lot of people who experience what I experience at that moment and they are not here to live to tell their story,’’ Bennett said before naming notable victims of police shootings, including Charleena Lyles and Philando Castile. “So many people have had the experience that I had, and they are not here to tell the story.’’
Bennett said he had not heard anything from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department since the incident.
“Just let my legal team and my group of reps take care of it,” he said. “I’m just trying to come in and focus on the game (the Seahawks’ season opener Sunday at Green Bay) and focus on the task at hand, let everything take care of itself.’’
Bennett said if he had made a wrong move during the time he was being held on the ground, “the Seahawks would be wearing a patch with number 72 (his jersey number) on it. So I’m just lucky to be able to be here now.”
Adding that he has heard people say he brought the incident on himself, Bennett said, “I didn’t ask for this moment. It just happened to be me.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, when asked about the incident Wednesday, read a statement that he later released (though condensed and with slightly different wording) on Twitter.
In his statement Carroll wrote that the incident is “a classic illustration of the reality of inequality demonstrated daily. May this incident inspire all of us to respond with compassion when inequalities are brought to light, and allow us to have the courage to stand for change. We can do better.’’
Bennett’s teammate and good friend, Cliff Avril, was with Bennett at the fight but not during the incident.
He said Bennett called him about an hour later, and Avril at first thought Bennett was joking.
“But when I walked up and he opened the door it was, ‘Oh, they really did get at you. They really did rough you up a little bit,’ ” Avril said. “And then just talked to him for a few hours to calm him down mostly.’’
Avril said Bennett remains shaken by the incident saying, “It still weighs heavily on him. My objective as a friend is to make sure he’s all right, trying to stay calm and enjoy his days. I try not to bring it up. He will bring it up from time to time, but I try to keep him at ease.”
Carroll said Bennett told him about the incident shortly after it happened, and other teammates said Bennett told them about it once the team was back. Seattle had that weekend off after playing against the Vikings on Aug. 25.
Bennett has been increasingly active and vocal on social issues. He sat on the bench during the national anthem before all four Seahawks exhibition games this preseason, an action he said he will continue.
Bennett’s brother Martellus, a tight end with Green Bay, later wrote a response via Twitter and Instagram, saying the call from his brother that night “was a scary one.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who last year became the first NFL player to sit during the national anthem, weighed in with his support for Bennett in a tweet, writing: “This violation that happened against my Brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust. I stand with Michael and I stand with the people.”
The NFL released a statement about the incident, saying Bennett “represents the best of the NFL” and that it will support Bennett and other NFL players in “promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve.”
Watch: TMZ obtained footage of the incident
Warning: Graphic language
Warning: Graphic language in tweet