Seattle Seahawks star defensive end Michael Bennett has accused police officers of racial profiling, saying they pointed guns at him and used excessive force during an incident in Las Vegas last month.
Bennett, 31, told reporters Wednesday that the incident was “a traumatic experience for me and my family.” Earlier in the day, he announced he is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit.
“It sucks that in the country that we live in now, sometimes you get profiled for the color of your skin,” Bennett said in a news conference. “It’s a tough situation for me. Do I think every police officer is bad? No, I don’t believe that. Do I believe there’s some people out there that judge people on the color of their skin? I do believe that.”
Bennett declined to further discuss with reporters the details of the incident, which he described in a statement he posted on his Twitter account earlier in the day.
According to Bennett’s statement, the incident occurred in the early morning hours on Aug. 27 after the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight in Las Vegas, when police apprehended him after hearing what sounded like gunshots in a crowded area.
Bennett wrote that officers pointed guns at him “for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and ordered him to lie down on the ground.
Bennett wrote that one officer, with his gun drawn, warned him that he would “blow my f—ing head off” if he moved. Another officer jammed his knee into Bennett’s back and handcuffed him, according to Bennett.
“The Officers’ excessive use of force was unbearable,” Bennett wrote. “I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed facing the real-life threat of being killed. All I could think of was ‘I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat.'”
Bennett wrote that he was placed in a police car before officers confirmed his identity, realized he was not a suspect and released him “without any legitimate justification for the Officers’ abusive conduct.”
“They apparently realized I was not a thug, common criminal or ordinary black man but Michael Bennett a famous professional football player,” he wrote.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said Wednesday that his department has launched an internal investigation into the events surrounding the detaining of Bennett.
McMahill said he had found “no evidence that race played any role in this incident,” and noted that both of the officers who dealt with Bennett were Hispanic. He said that Bennett was detained for 10 minutes.
McMahill said there are 126 pieces of video for the police to look at, including bodycam images, but the officer who handcuffed Bennett did not have his bodycam on.
McMahill described the events of that night around Drai’s nightclub, after they got a call saying loud shots were heard. Police began conducting a search inside and outside the club for an active shooter. McMahill later said that there was no shooter, and that the sound people heard was not a gunshot.
McMahill said that as people ran from the club, an officer spotted Bennett crouched by some machines. He said that when the officer spotted Bennett, Bennett took off running out of the club and officers pursued him before taking him down and putting him in cuffs.
McMahill said that at the time, the officer explained the situation to Bennett, and that Bennett said he had no problem with how the police handled it except for having a gun pointed at his head. McMahill then showed a video of the police, in a line, searching the club. It was a chaotic scene, with many people running.
A video posted Wednesday by TMZ Sports shows a police officer putting handcuffs on Bennett. At one point in the video, Bennett is heard yelling to the officer: “I wasn’t doing nothing, man. I was here with my friends. They told us to get out; everybody ran. Can you answer my question, sir?”
When asked why Bennett had been singled out, McMahill said he did not know but that he hoped the investigation would make that more clear. He encouraged anyone who has video of the events to make it available to the LVMPD.
McMahill also asked that Bennett file a formal complaint. He said he learned about the incident the way most people did, on social media.
Bennett told reporters Wednesday that he was thinking about his wife and three daughters “and how much they mean to me” during the incident.
“There’s a lot of people who experienced what I experienced at that moment, and they’re not here to live to tell the story,” Bennett said, before mentioning four high-profile incidents in which an African American was killed by police officers. “I think about Trayvon Martin, I think about Charleena Lyles, I think about Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, so many different people that had the experience that I had and they’re not here to tell the story.”
Bennett’s news conference ended when he became emotional while talking about how he reminds his daughters every day that they matter. He stopped mid-sentence, tried to compose himself and walked out of the room.
“It’s unfortunate,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said of the incident. “Obviously, I’m happy that he made it out. Day in the life, though. I’m sure as he said, it’s something that he’s been through before and hopefully he doesn’t have to go through again. There’s no amount of money, no amount of fame, no amount of notoriety that could keep you from things like that happening to you. Just an unfortunate part of life, and I’m just thankful that he made it out.”
Bennett declined to say Wednesday if he has heard anything from Las Vegas police since he released his statement.
He said he has retained John Burris, an Oakland-based civil rights attorney, to investigate the incident and determine his legal options.
Burris released a statement Wednesday saying 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.”
“We think there was an unlawful detention and the use of excessive force, with a gun put to his head,” Burris told The Associated Press. “He was just in the crowd. He doesn’t drink or do drugs. He wasn’t in a fight. He wasn’t resisting. He did nothing more or less than anyone in the crowd.”
Burris said Bennett waited to make public his account of the incident until after Burris contacted Las Vegas police last week by letter and email, seeking police records of Bennett’s detention.
Bennett said the incident is an example of the racial inequality that he is protesting by sitting for the national anthem. Bennett sat through the anthem for all four of the Seahawks’ preseason games this summer and has said he will continue doing so.
“I have always held a strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do,” Bennett wrote. “This fact is unequivocally, without question why before every game, I sit during the national anthem–because equality doesn’t live in this country and no matter how much money you make, what job title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a ‘N—–,’ you will be treated that way.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Wednesday, saying that Bennett “represents the best of the NFL — a leader on his team and in his community.”
“Our foremost concern is the welfare of Michael and his family,” Goodell said in his statement. “While we understand the Las Vegas police department will address this later this evening, the issues Michael has been raising deserve serious attention from all of our leaders in every community. We will support Michael and all NFL players in promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve and fair and equal treatment under the law.”
“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,” Martellus Bennett wrote. “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.”
Michael Bennett has been a vocal advocate for former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to publicly protest during the anthem last season.
Kaepernick, who remains unsigned this season, tweeted his support of Bennett on Wednesday.
“This violation that happened against my Brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust,” Kaepernick tweeted. “I stand with Michael and I stand with the people.”
The Seahawks have not commented on the incident. Seahawks center Justin Britt also tweeted his support of Bennett.
— Justin Britt (@JustinBritt68) September 6, 2017
Britt has stood by Bennett’s side with a supportive hand on his shoulder while the defensive end sat on the bench during the anthem before the Seahawks’ last three preseason games. Britt began doing that after Bennett sat alone on the bench during the anthem before the preseason opener.
Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter network, released a statement Wednesday offering the group’s support to Bennett. Black Lives Matter has joined with Color of Change to start a petition asking the Las Vegas Police Department to release the names of the officers who allegedly assaulted Bennett and video of the incident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.