Michael Bennett calls Las Vegas encounter bias policing; undersheriff says that's not the case

By: KIRO 7 News Staff

Updated:

SEATTLE - Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Wednesday accused Las Vegas police of racially motivated excessive force, saying he was threatened at gunpoint and handcuffed following a report of gunshots at an after-hours club at a casino hotel.

Bennett, who has recently remained seated during the national anthem prior to football games, posted a statement to Twitter detailing the encounter. Within a few hours, a video surfaced of an officer putting Bennett in handcuffs.

The Las Vegas Metro Police Department (NVMPD) gave a news conference Wednesday about the accusations, saying there is no evidence Bennett was detained because of his race. According to the department, officers were investigating an active shooter call — which turned out to be false — and Bennett running quickly prompted a chase.

The chase ended with the controversial encounter. Scroll down below to read expanded sections on what happened.


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The events leading up to the encounter

The Las Vegas Police Department showed body camera video during a news conference of the scene that unfolded outside and inside the casino-hotel, The Cromwell and Drai Nightclub, leading up to the incident with Bennett on August 27.

The video shows officers responding to an active shooter call, which turned out to be false.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it's possible statues were knocked down onto the tile floor during a fight, which prompted reports of a shooting.

As officers investigated, patrons panicked as they tried to leave the building. Video shows people screaming and scrambling to get out of the casino and others trying to hide.

In the body camera video, officers can be heard telling people to leave casino. Thousands of people were in the area at the time of the active shooter call, according to police.

Bennett was crouched down as officers approached, and then he quickly ran, which led officers to chase him and order him to the ground, police said.

Watch the clip below, scroll down to read Bennett's letter.

What Bennett says in his letter

Bennett wrote in his letter that he was visiting Las Vegas to watch the Mayweather-McGregor fight, and he was on the way to his hotel when he was detained. 

According to Bennett's statement, police ordered him to the ground at gunpoint, jammed a knee into his back and handcuffed him so tight that his fingers went numb.

According to Bennett, one officer placed a gun near his head and warned him if he moved his would "blow his ******* head off."

In his letter, Bennett called it an excessive use of force, simply because he was a "black man in the wrong place at the wrong time." Read his full letter below, and scroll down to watch video of part of the encounter. 

 

 

 

 

A brief video obtained by TMZ Sports surfaced just hours after the letter. It showed part of the encounter between police and Bennett, where he lay on the ground as an officer puts him in handcuffs.

“I wasn’t doing nothing, man,” Bennett is heard saying in the video. “They told us to get out and everybody ran.”

Bennett's attorney on the encounter

Bennett's attorney, John Burris in Oakland, California, confirmed Bennett's words in the TMZ. The attorney said he believed the 30-second video clip showed some of how his client was treated.

>> RELATED: Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll speaks about Bennett's police encounter 

"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.

What NVMPD say about 'bias-based policing'

In addition to explaining the events leading up to the encounter, police commented on social media commentary that the detention was motivated by race. 

“Many of the folks today have called this an incident of biased-based policing … police officers focused solely on the race of an individual … I can tell you as I stand here today I see no evidence of that,” said NVMPD Undersheriff Kevin McMahill.

"In fact as you may have noticed, while officers were searching the casino they were able to evacuate many patrons of all races. It’s also important for me to note to you both of the officers involved in this incident in question are of Hispanic origin," McMahill said. 

Body camera image from Bennett's police encounter in Las Vegas.

McMahill invited Bennett and his legal team to make a formal statement to the officers. According to McHill, after his detention, Bennett told officers that he understood the events that led to the incident. He did mention to police that he had an issue with the officer who held a gun to his head.

An internal investigation has been opened, and that includes looking through at least 126 videos of the false shooting call. The Las Vegas Police Department said if their investigation determines any policies were violated, officers will be held accountable.

One of the officers involved in the incident did not have his body camera activated.

About Bennett as an advocate

Bennett is a 6-foot-4 defensive end who has been a leader of the national anthem protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Addressing why he's been sitting during the national anthem, Bennett said:

“I have always held the 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 have much you give, when you are seen as a ‘n*****,' you will be treated that way."

Bennett spoke during a news conference for the Seahawks on Wednesday and became emotional when he talked about his advocacy for his daughters.

>> RELATED: Colin Kaepernick stands with Michael Bennett, calls police encounter ‘disgusting'

In Bennett’s letter on Wednesday he wrote that the system failed him and referenced local woman Charleena Lyles, who was shot by Seattle police during an altercation earlier this year, as well as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others.

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