By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Jill Martin
(CNN) — Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett couldn’t contain his emotion as he recounted his treatment last month at the hands of Las Vegas police, abruptly ending a news conference after raising the specter of what a wrong move could have meant that night.
“I’m just lucky to be here to be able to speak about it. At any moment, I could’ve made the wrong decision whether to move, or (if police) felt like I was resisting or doing something wrong, and the Seahawks would be wearing the patch with No. 72 on it,” he said, referencing a common way NFL teams memorialize players they’ve lost.
“I try to tell my daughters every single day that they matter,” he continued late Wednesday, hanging his head for a few seconds before sighing and walking out of the news conference.
The 31-year-old Super Bowl champion addressed the media hours after he tweeted an open letter in which he alleged that police unfairly detained him, roughed him up and threatened to shoot him after he ran from what he thought were gunshots following the August 26 fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Turns out, there was no shooting: Police said the sound was velvet rope stands falling over, CNN affiliate KCPQ reported.
Still, authorities responding to Bennett’s open letter stood by their treatment of the defensive end and tackle. Based on what they knew at the time, officers believed Bennett may have been involved in the shooting and pursued him, Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said, adding that he saw “no evidence that race played a role in this incident.”
What happened before Bennett was handcuffed remains unclear. The only video of the arrest released so far begins with Bennett facedown on the ground outside a casino, an officer cuffing his hands behind his back.
“I wasn’t doing nothing, man,” Bennett implores in the video. “I was here with friends. They told us to get out. Everybody ran. Can you answer my question, sir?”
In his letter, Bennett said his daughters, Peyton, Blake and Ollie, were on his mind as an officer allegedly put a gun near his head and threatened to shoot him if he moved.
“All I could think was, ‘I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin 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?” he wrote.
He wasn’t the only one shaken at the notion of his demise. His younger brother, Martellus Bennett, a Green Bay Packers starter who played with Michael at Texas A&M, also got choked up discussing with reporters how things could’ve gone wrong.
Martellus Bennett said he had to walk out of a team meeting “because I broke down crying just thinking about what could have happened,” according to ESPN.
Towering over the reporters gathered at his locker, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound tight end further said, “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,” he continued, his voice quavering, “because there’s a chance that I couldn’t see him.”
Police: Bennett ran, jumped wall
Michael Bennett said he’s trying to focus on the Seahawks season opener Sunday against his brother’s Packers. He hates that he’s instead talking about the encounter with police, he said, adding that he doesn’t cast blanket blame on law enforcement authorities.
“It sucks that (in) 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,” Bennett said. “Do I think every police officer is bad? No, I don’t believe that. Do I believe there are some people out there that judge people by the color of their skin? I do believe that.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department confirmed it detained Bennett for about 10 minutes that night before releasing him, said McMahill, the undersheriff.
Police responded to a call of battery and assault with a gun that turned into an active-shooter situation, he said. Officers believed Bennett may have been involved in the shooting and gave chase, McMahill said.
They first saw Bennett crouched behind a gaming machine, then watched him run out the doors of a casino, jump over a wall and run into traffic, McMahill alleged.
“Many folks today have called this an incident of racial-bias policing, that police officers focused solely on the race of the individual that they were going to stop. I can tell you as I stand here today, I see no evidence of that,” he said.
Detective Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, called on the NFL to investigate Bennett over his “obvious false allegations against our officers,” saying the player has yet to file an internal affairs complaint against the officers, who are both minorities.
“I believe a fair and impartial investigation will show officers detained somebody that ran away from the scene and that was hiding and when they had reason to believe he wasn’t involved he was let go. It’s being blown up more than it should be, I believe,” he wrote.
Bennett’s account differs
The police account stands in contrast to the version of events Bennett outlined in his letter. Bennett said he was leaving a party when he heard what he thought were gunshots and ran for cover.
Police ordered him to the ground at gunpoint and as he lay there, complying with commands not to move, an officer placed a gun near Bennett’s head and warned him that if he moved, he would “blow my f***ing head off.” A second officer “forcefully jammed his knee into my back making it difficult for me to breathe,” he wrote.
“They then cinched the handcuffs on my wrists so tight that my fingers went numb,” the letter states.
“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.”
Bennett is considering a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers, attorney John Burris said, calling the incident “Exhibit A as to how every black man rich, famous or poor, unarmed and innocent, can be falsely detained, arrested or even shot and killed by the police.”
Bennett signs $31.5 million deal with the Seahawks
Wrote Bennett in his open letter: “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 gets support
Despite fielding criticism since he joined ranks with free agent and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in refusing to stand for the national anthem before NFL games, Bennett has witnessed an outpouring of support over his run-in with Las Vegas police.
Martellus Bennett, who has supported his brother’s stance on the anthem but has opted not to sit or kneel himself, said hearing the account of Michael Bennett’s police encounter “left me in one of the saddest places ever.” He found it difficult to imagine the phone calls families receive upon losing a loved one, he said.
“I love you very much,” Martellus Bennett wrote in a statement on Instagram. “To me, you’re much more than a nigger.”
The Seahawks announced in a succinct tweet: “We ‘stand in support’ of Michael Bennett.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Bennett “the best of the NFL — a leader on his team and in his community” and said the league’s main concern is the welfare of Bennett and his family.
“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,” Goodell’s statement said.
Added Kaepernick in a tweet: “This violation that happened against my Brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust. I stand with Michael and I stand with the people.”
In an interview last month with CNN, Bennett said he won’t stand for the national anthem until he sees “equality and freedom.”
“At this point, I think if you’re being silent, you’re being dishonest,” Bennett told CNN. “I can’t hide behind the logo on my helmet. I can’t hide behind the shield. I can’t hide behind the glamor and glitz of the NFL.”
During his Wednesday news conference, Bennett invoked the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in explaining how his encounter with Las Vegas police is an apt example of why he won’t stand during the anthem.
“We hope that you’ll be judged on the content of your character, not the color of your skin, but sometimes you get judged on that, and that’s the reality that I live in,” the two-time Pro Bowler said. “When people ask why I sit down, this is why.”
Grammas, the police union president, took issue with Bennett’s stance on the anthem in his letter calling for an NFL investigation.
“While the NFL may condone Bennett’s disrespect for our American Flag and everything it symbolizes, we hope the League will not ignore Bennett’s false accusations against our police officers,” he wrote.
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