Seattle Seahawks star defensive end Michael Bennett says he is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against Las Vegas police after a harrowing encounter last month.
Bennett was in Las Vegas on August 26 to attend the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight. He says that as he was heading to his hotel afterward, he and hundreds of others heard what sounded like gun shots.
“Like many of the people in the area I ran away from the sound, looking for safety,” he writes in a letter he posted to Twitter today. “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,” Bennett continues. “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.”
Bennett says he felt helpless, lying handcuffed on the ground “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,’” he writes.
He says they loaded him into the back of a police car, where he sat “until they apparently realized I was not a thug, a common criminal or ordinary black man but Michael Bennett a famous professional football player.”
TMZ posted video of part of the encounter, which shows an officer handcuffing Bennett on the ground as he protests, “I wasn’t doing nothing!”
A 31-year-old in his ninth season in the NFL, Bennett told ESPN last month that the violence in Charlottesville convinced him to sit during the national anthem for the entirety of the 2017 season. He grew up in Houston and recently announced a campaign to raise relief funds for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“I have always held a strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do,” he writes. “[E]quality 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.”
Las Vegas police told the Associated Press they were checking casino and police body camera video, as well as written reports.
“Without looking at video footage or reading any reports we can’t say yet what happened,” Officer Jacinto Rivera told the news service.
Bennett has hired prominent civil rights attorney John Burris to explore his legal options, including filing a civil rights lawsuit.
“We think there was an unlawful detention and the use of excessive force, with a gun put to his head,” Burris told the AP. “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.”
“This violation that happened against my Brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust,” he wrote. “I stand with Michael and I stand with the people.”
Bennett says the system failed him. “I can only imagine what Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Charleena Lyles felt, he writes.