Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department over an apparent altercation with officers following the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight on Aug. 26.
Bennett, who has followed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead in refusing to stand for the national anthem at four preseason games this season, detailed the incident in a tweet on Wednesday. According to an open letter from Bennett, he was heading back to his hotel room in the early morning hours of Aug. 27 when a crowd of several hundred people scattered after hearing what sounded like gunshots.
The 31-year-old claimed that police officers targeted him because of his skin color, pointing their guns at him and ordering him to the ground. One of the officers, Bennett wrote, pointed his gun at his head and warned that he would blow his “fucking head off” if he moved. A second officer, according to Bennett, jammed his knee into his back, which constricted his breathing, and the officers handcuffed Bennett “so tight” that his “fingers went numb.” The incident occurred around 1:30 a.m., according to reports.
“The Officers’ excessive use of force was unbearable,” Bennett wrote in the letter. “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.’”
According to Bennett, he was escorted to a nearby police cruiser, where the officers “realized I was not a thug, common criminal or ordinary black man but Michael Bennett a famous professional football player.” Bennett was ultimately released without justification for the apprehension, according to the letter.
Bennett has hired Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris to explore legal recourse and a potential civil rights lawsuit against any violations of constitutional rights. Burris said in a statement 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.”
Las Vegas police held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to address the allegations. According to Undersheriff Kevin McMahill, police were responding to reports of an active shooter inside a nightclub at The Cromwell Hotel and Casino, but police have confirmed that no shooting occurred. McMahill denied that race played any role in Bennett’s confrontation with police.
“As they moved toward the nightclub, an individual later identified as Bennett was seen crouched down behind a gaming machine as the officers approached,” McMahill said. “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 the officers had at the time, they believed Bennett may have been involved in the shooting and they gave chase.”
“Bennett was placed into handcuffs and detained while officers determined whether or not he was involved in the original incident,” the undersheriff continued. “He was detained for approximately 10 minutes and released. Mr. Bennett, at the scene, had the incident explained to him by a supervisor, and he said that he understood and that he had no problem with what the officers did, just the one that he claimed the officer had pointed a gun at his head.”
McMahill explained that the department has opened an internal investigation into the incident, which will involve review of nearly 130 videos from Las Vegas officers. He also urged the public to deliver any footage to police.
“I see no evidence that race played any role in this incident,” McMahill said. “While officers were searching the casino, they were able to safely evacuate many patrons of all races.”
Bennett has been a vocal supporter of Kaepernick, who remains an unsigned free agent after gaining national attention last season for sitting and kneeling during the national anthem at games. Bennett has said that NFL ownership has “blackballed” the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback for his social justice efforts. Kaepernick on Wednesday tweeted a message of support for the Seahawks player: “This violation that happened against my Brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust. I stand with Michael and I stand with the people.”
“I have always held a strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do,” Bennett wrote in his letter. “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 ‘Nigger,’ you will be treated that way.”
Bennett in his letter pointed to the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Charleena Lyles, all African-Americans who died in confrontations with police or individuals accused of racial profiling.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors-Brignac has initiated an online petition on behalf of Bennett, calling for the Las Vegas Police Department to release video footage of the incident and the names of the officers who were involved. The petition had garnered nearly 13,000 signatures Wednesday evening. Cullors-Brignac explained in the petition that Bennett had contacted her shortly after the altercation, stating that the officers had allegedly lied to Bennett and told him “they assaulted him for his own protection.”
“Police brutalizing Black people is endemic in the United States,” Cullors-Brignac wrote. “Last Saturday police terrorized 6’4 ft, 274 lbs NFL star Michael Bennett ‘for walking while Black’. This latest incident stands as a testament to the police violence targeting Black people in the United States.”