The National Football League (NFL) refused a Las Vegas police union’s call to internally investigate Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett, telling media outlets yesterday (September 7) that the defensive end did not violate league protocol by accusing two Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officers of assault.
Bennett tweeted a statement on Wednesday (September 6) that described the alleged abuse. He wrote that he and others fled the sound of gunshots while leaving the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight on August 26. Two LVMPD officers approached him, and one ordered him on the ground, aimed a gun at his head and threatened to “blow [his] fucking head off” if he moved. Bennett also said that the other officer pushed a knee into his back, which impeded his breathing.
"I kept asking the officers, ‘What did I do?’ and reminding them that I had rights they were duty bound to respect," Bennett continued. "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."
Bennett said that he retained civil rights attorney John Burris for possible future legal action. His statement also framed the incident as a manifestation of structural racism, which he protests by sitting during the pre-game national anthem and supporting local racial justice causes.
LVMPD undersheriff Kevin McMahill denied that "race played any role" in Bennett’s treatment, which he addressed in the above press conference on Wednesday. He said that LVMPD officers met chaos at The Cromwell casino while responding to a reported possible active shooter. Officers on the scene apparently saw Bennett "crouched down behind a gaming machine" before he ran in the opposite direction. McMahill said that the still-unnamed involved officers, whom he identified as "Hispanic," then gave chase, later releasing him after confirming that he was not involved.
McMahill also admitted that one of the involved officers did not turn on their body camera. He then showed footage from another camera. It shows officers moving through Drai’s Nightclub before going outside, and one involved officer can be seen pursuing Bennett over an outside ledge. Much of what happened after is obscured, as the camera is pointed in another direction, but the video later shows the officer pinning down Bennett. McMahill also said that the LVMPD will conduct an internal investigation into the incident.
— LVPPA (@LVPPA) September 7, 2017
McMahill’s promised investigation did not satisfy the Las Vegas Police Protection Association, the union representing rank-and-file LVMPD officers. Association president Steve Grammas issued the above letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday (September 7), requesting that the league investigate and punish Bennett for making what he called "false and defamatory" allegations. The letter said the officers’ actions were legitimate based on "Bennett’s unusual and suspicious actions."
"While the NFL may condone Bennett’s disrespect for the American flag, and everything it symbolizes, we hope the league will not ignore Bennett’s false accusations against our officers," Grammas wrote. "Michael Bennett’s claim that our officers are racists is false and offensive to the men and women of law enforcement. We hope you will take appropriate action against Michael Bennett."
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy dismissed this request in a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and other media outlets yesterday. "There is no allegation of a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy and therefore there is no basis for an NFL investigation," he said.
The leader of the NFL Players Association, the union representing players like Bennett, concurred. "There are no grounds for the NFL to investigate our union rep, and I look forward to Roger [Goodell] confirming the same," executive director DeMaurice Smith told ESPN.
Goodell did not respond to Gammas’ letter, but did support Bennett’s call for accountable policing in a statement tweeted from McCarthy’s account on Wednesday:
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) September 6, 2017
Bennett received additional support from racial justice activists and athletes alike. Black Lives Matter Network co-founder Patrisse Cullors shared his account via a petition on advocacy organization Color of Change’s OrganizeFor platform. The petition, which demands the LVMPD release the involved officers’ names, has nearly 43,000 signatures as of press time.
Several NFL players also showed solidarity with Bennett on social media, including his brother Martellus Bennett and fellow racial justice supporter Colin Kaepernick:
Via @mosesbread72 the call that night was a scary one. 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. A lot of people feel like it couldn’t happen to them because of status, neighborhood ("tghat only happens in the hood") or whatever, but it all honesty YOU could be next. I COULD BE NEXT. YOUR SON, DAUGHTER, BROTHER, FATHER, GRANDPA, SISTER, COUSIN could be next. I’m sad that you have to share this type of experience with the world but at the same time I’m happy that it happened to you and you lived to talk about it because we all know you’re going to talk about it. Lol. The conversation is growing and I’m glad your voice is one of the ones being heard. You are as real as they come, well at least how they used to come. I encourage you to Continue telling your story and the stories of those that came before. I love you very much @mosesbread72 to me you’re much more than a nigger.
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