Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett posted a letter on Twitter Wednesday, alleging that Las Vegas police officers used excessive force on him and held a gun near his head as he lay on the ground. He says he has retained a lawyer and may file a lawsuit.
Hours after the letter was posted, TMZ released a partial video of the incident.
"It was a traumatic experience for me and my family," Bennett said at a team press conference Wednesday. "It sucks that the country that we live in now, sometimes, you get profiled for the color of your skin and it's a tough situation for me."
It happened the night of August 26 following the Floyd Mayweather - Connor McGregor fight.
Bennett says in the letter that as he left the fight to go back to his hotel, there was a sound of gunshots in the area. Bennett says he ran away from the sound, but then was "singled out" by Las Vegas police officers. He says he did nothing wrong other than being a "black man in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Bennett says he was ordered to the ground and that he complied with the officers' orders, but says that a gun was placed near his head and was warned not to move or the officer would "blow my (expletive) head off." Bennett says a second officer jammed a knee into his back.
After asking what he had done wrong and telling officers he had rights, Bennett said he was taken back to a police car. Bennett said after confirming who he was, the officers let him go.
Las Vegas Undersheriff Kevin McMahill held a news conference Wednesday afternoon about the incident. He said police determined no shots were fired and that the call was unfounded.
Meanwhile, an internal investigation has begun into Bennett's accusations, and the department was reviewing 126 videos taken by surveillance and witnesses. McMahill urged the public who may have taken video of the incident to contact internal affairs.
"I see no evidence that race played any role in this incident," said McMahill, who noted the two officers who detained Bennett were Hispanic. He also urged Bennett to file a formal complaint with the department's internal affairs.
McMahill then played body cam video from a sergeant at the casino before Bennett was detained. The five-minute video showed a chaotic scene with people running outside the casino as officers ran in.
"In fact, as you notice throughout this video that I play for you, while officers were searching the casino, they were able to safely evacuate many patrons of all races."
McMahill said Bennett was seen crouching near a gaming machine, then ran from police when he saw the officers.
"He sees the officers, he gets up and runs, and so the initial contact he's out the door. You hear the officer approach the door, saying 'There he is.' He gives chase. Mr. Bennett jumped over the wall; our officer went over the wall immediately thereafter."
McMahill said both officers had their weapons out.
TMZ posted a 33-second video of the incident. In the video, you see one officer looking over a balcony as another handcuffs Bennett with his face down.
"I wasn't doing nothing man! I was here with my friends! They told us to get out, everybody ran!" Bennett is heard yelling.
The footage does not show a gun being held near Bennett's head, but it's clear the video also does not show the entire incident from start to finish.
Bennett would not go into details about the incident at the Wednesday press conference. He has hired Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris to investigate and possibly file a civil rights lawsuit.
"Here was a conduct that could happen to him that could happen to any African-American man. And it was only because he is sort of rich and famous that he was able to walk away from this without going into custody or even being any more mistreated any more so than he already was," Burris said Wednesday.
"On a personal level, of course, he was appalled that he could be stopped in the manner which he was, put on the ground, a gun at the back of his head, profanity at him, threatened his life. He was fearful of that whole incident. He clearly was afraid this could be the end of his life for circumstances in which he hadn't done anything," Burris added.
Burris said one of the first things he wants to find out is why Bennett was stopped in the first place.
But Bennett was clear in both his statement on Twitter and in front of the cameras Wednesday that he believes the color of his skin played a role.
"Do I think every police officer is bad? No. I don't believe that," Bennett said. "Do I believe there are some people out there that judge people by the color of their skin? I do believe that."
Bennett also addressed that incidents like this are why he has been sitting for the national anthem this season.
"People ask why I sit down, and this is why. This is the things that I go through, what people go through that look like me or people that's going through something differently," Bennett said.
KING 5 is working to obtain the police report on the incident.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said the team is supporting Bennett.
"What happened with Michael is a classic illustration of the reality of inequalities that are 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," Carroll said while reading a statement. "We can do better. We can do better than this."
Bennett's brother, Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, also re-posted the letter on Instagram with a message to his sibling.
"The call that night was a scary one," Martellus wrote. "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."
Other NFL players stood up in defense of Bennett. Seahawks center Justin Britt, who has stood next to his teammate with his hand on Bennett's shoulder during Bennett's anthem protest, said it succinctly.
Former Seahawk Russell Okung also weighed in.
How do we 'stick to sports' when our lives are at stake?— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) September 6, 2017
Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who started the anthem protest movement last season, voiced his opinion.
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
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement expressing support for Bennett. "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."
An online petition has been started calling for the Las Vegas Police Department to release video of the encounter and the names of the officers involved.
The Seahawks visit the Green Bay Packers in the season opener this Sunday.
Bennett has also been invited to a social justice event on Thursday called “The Impact of Police Violence on Families in our Community.”
The meeting features families who have lost loved ones in officer-involved shootings, and has been organized by Andre Taylor, founder of Not This Time and brother of Che Taylor, shot and killed by police last year.
“I think it will have a lasting impact upon him – and trauma,” Taylor said, explaining he spoke to Bennett Wednesday morning. “Law enforcement has to start understanding that you could just be stopping anybody or treat anybody roughly and unfairly, and it might not be the average person you’re used to pushing around who can’t defend themselves legally. It just so happens Michael Bennett is a superstar.”
Bennett hosted a benefit and has supported the family of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant woman shot and killed by Seattle Police in June.
The following is the entire content of the letter, unedited. (Warning: There is use of the F-word and the N-word.) The post was titled "Equality."
On Saturday, August 26, 2017, I was in Las Vegas to attend the Mayweather-McGregor fight on my day off. After the fight while heading back to my hotel several hundred people heard what sounded like gun shots. Like many of the people in the area I ran away from the sound, looking for safety. Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A police officer ordered me to get on the ground. As I laid on the ground, complying with his commands not to move, he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would "blow my fucking head off." Terrified and confused by what was taking place, A second Officer came over and forcefully jammed his knee into my back making it difficult for me to breathe. They then cinched the handcuffs on my wrists so tight that my fingers went numb.
The Officers' excessive use of force was unbearable. 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.' My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls. Would I ever play with them again? Or watch them have kids? Or be able to kiss my wife again and tell her I love her?
I kept asking the Officers "What did I do?" and reminding them that I had rights they were duty bound to respect. The Officers ignored my pleas and instead told me to shut up and then took me to the back of a nearby police car where I sat for what felt like an eternity until they apparently realized I was not a thug, common criminal or ordinary black man but Michael Bennett a famous professional football player. After confirming my identity, I was ultimately released without any legitimate justification for the Officers' abusive conduct.
I have always held a strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do. 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.
The system failed me. I can only imagine what Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Charleeena Lyles felt.
I have retained Oakland Civil Rights Attorney John Burns to investigate and explore all my legal options including filing a civil rights lawsuit for the violation of my constitutional rights.