BY Art Thiel 07:38PM 09/06/2017

Thiel: Bennett ‘frantic . . . frightened’ in Vegas

When a cop drew his gun, a handcuffed Michael Bennett feared for his life. The Las Vegas police dismiss his claim of profiling as they “explained the episode to him.” Really?

Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, in happier times when he was awarded the Male Athlete of the Year Award at the annual Star of the Year event. / Seattle Sports Commission

The friendship between Seahawks teammates Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett is filled with enough teasing man-banter that, as Avril put it, “We play around so much that sometimes, we don’t know what’s what.”

But when Avril arrived at Bennett’s Las Vegas hotel room early in the morning of Aug. 27 and the door opened, Avril knew something serious had gone down.

“He was definitely shook like I’ve never seen him — frantic and frightened about his situation,” Avril said Wednesday in the Seahawks locker room, four days before Seattle’s regular-season opener in Green Bay and 10 days after the pair attended the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight. “We spent two hours talking, until like five in the morning. His mind was going so many different ways.  I was trying to calm him down.

“I wanted to make sure he reached out to his family before he did anything. I didn’t want him to make the wrong move. That was my advice: ‘Bro, think this thing through. Come up with a game plan.'”

After 10 days, Bennett indeed thought through and delivered his practical response: A letter to “Dear World” posted on Twitter Wednesday morning about an “unbearable” episode in which he was racially profiled, handcuffed while prone on a sidewalk, and threatened by a gun-wielding cop whom Bennett claimed said, “I’ll blow your f——- your head off.”

What Bennett couldn’t get through, after 10 days, was the emotional response. After several minutes of taking questions at team’s auditorium podium, finishing an answer about being black in America, he said, “I try to tell my daughters every single day that they matter . . . you know . . . ”

He stopped. For five seconds, he looked down. Then he walked away from the podium and out a stage door, expressionless.

The Packers game abruptly was a small deal. And everything that Bennett had been saying about social injustice in America, prompting his nationally controversial decision to sit during the national anthem at Seahawks games, became a larger deal.

The irony hit like a freight train — the one activist athlete in America that most law-enforcement officials, not to mention most NFL owners, would not want to piss off needlessly, found himself kissing concrete over an incident from which he was released without charges a few minutes later.

“There are a lot of people who experience what I experienced at that moment, and they aren’t here to tell their story,” said Bennett of the list of unarmed African-Americans shot to death by police. “I can’t go into those details (of his incident).

“I’m here just to tell you this was an emotional moment for me . . . I didn’t want this to be me, I just happened to be there.”

The moment was verified by a video that was published by TMZ.com showing a handcuffed Bennett telling the officer he did nothing.

By mid-afternoon, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, besieged by inquiries, held a press conference in which they attempted to refute Bennett’s claim of racial profiling by denying it, and said Bennett accepted the police explanation.

According to undersheriff Kevin McMahill, “Mr. Bennett at the scene had the incident explained to him by a supervisor, and he said he understood and that he had no problem with what the officers did — just the one, that he claimed the officer had a gun pointed at his head.”

Just the one. A small detail. A detail of the sort that gets people killed.

Just in case anyone thinks Bennett was making up the part about the gun, the department’s own police-cam video, posted to YouTube, proves it. McMahill said the department was reviewing 126 videos of the episode, but the five-minute one they chose for the press conference shows the arresting officer putting a gun to the head of Bennett as he lay prone and cuffed. But the video does not show Bennett hiding or fleeing, as McMahill claimed.

Here’s the press conference video. At about the 12:40 mark is a brief glimpse of the arrest on the street from the second floor view of a hotel balcony:

The episode began when a number of people near Drai’s Club about three hours after the fight began to run after hearing what was reported to be gunshots. McMahill said that no shooter was found, could not say what caused the noise or whether others besides Bennett had been detained.

But they did finally figure out who Bennett was. But Bennett suspects there will be critics who think the episode was some sort of set-up.

“I know a lot of people are like, ‘Oh did he want this on (him)self?’ ” he said. “I didn’t ask for this moment, it just happened to be me.  I’m just lucky to be here to be able to speak about it.

“At any moment I could have made the wrong decision, or moved, or (the cop) felt like I was resisting, or doing something wrong, and you guys and the Seahawks would be wearing a patch with number 72 on it.”

Bennett could not be more plain nor accurate. The police have yet to explain what they claimed to know about the profile of any potential suspect, why they believed Bennett was different than others leaving the scene, or what he did to induce the officer’s actions. But Bennett suspects he is one who will be held to account.

“At this or some point in time, you’re in the eyes of everybody in America,” he said, “and everybody is waiting for you to make a mistake.

“The truth is, I got great people around me.  I thank the organization for their support. But this is bigger than me.”

Coach Pete Carroll tried to address the bigger picture beyond what he called the “horrendous incident” of Aug. 27.

“We’re thankful that he is safe and we take this opportunity to say that we stand in support of him and anyone facing inequalities,” Carroll said, reading haltingly from a written statement. “What happened with Michael is a classic illustration of the reality of inequalities that are demonstrated daily.

“Maybe this incident can 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. We can do better than this.”

When asked, Carroll said the episode has not begun to pass from Bennett’s mind.

“You can tell it’s hanging with him,” he said. “(Players) have shared stories over the years; there’s been stuff that has happened enough, more than I like to account. We’ve been through these topics before. This one was very traumatic.”

Said Avril: “I’m sure it weighs on him heavy. I’m just trying to get him to enjoy the day, or whatever. I try not to bring it up. But he’ll bring it up from time to time.”

As awkward and distracting as it was for Bennett to call out what happened and cause a local and national uproar, teammate Richard Sherman said stepping forward was vital.

“I think it was incredibly important because I think there is a sentiment that goes around that it doesn’t happen,” he said. “You are rich, you are wealthy, you are famous, you have notoriety. There is no way it happens to you and it does.  It does.

“It is poor training for some (officers). Every individual is different. I have met great officers. I have gotten tickets and walked away with a smile. It’s like, ‘Oh, that is a great guy, sucks that I got a ticket, but’ . . . then you have incidents where you run into people that you keep your wits about you, you keep your hands visible. But something needs to change.”

As it always has. As it always will.


YourThoughts

  • Matt Kite

    If you read the comments below various news reports of the incident, whether on the Seattle Times’ website or various football or sports-related sites, you’ll encounter the maddening denial and obfuscation so prevalent among white America. “He staged this.” “Why is he just now coming out with this?” “He obviously did something wrong.” “The police were just doing their job.”

    Why is it so hard for some people, especially white males, to acknowledge the reality that black people are treated differently in society? Or that some police abuse their authority? It can’t be due to a lack of knowledge. We read about white privilege all the time and see empirical evidence, much of it tragic, in the news almost daily. Is it insecurity? Counter-will? The unwillingness to extend empathy beyond one’s own tribe? I don’t know. All I know is I ache for Michael Bennett and others who, through no fault of their own, are treated differently merely due to the color of their skin.

    I applaud him for having the courage to speak out, to try to change people’s minds. We hear all the time that politics have no place in sports, but of course, politics intervene in every aspect of life: work, family, neighborhood, church, travel, art, even social activities. Bennett has a chance to reach the NFL demographic and share his experiences. I hope people will listen.

    • Michael Ward Johnson

      Amen…

    • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

      Well said.

    • art thiel

      Some white males see a conspiracy to usurp white supremacy, and that makes them very insecure. They are currently operating the country.

  • Matt712

    It sure looked to me like things went down the way Bennett said they did. I have measured respect for law enforcement insofar as it seems like it could be an extremely intense and difficult job at the times. But, like Sherm and Doug Baldwin have eluded to, something has to be done in terms of evaluating suspects, keeping the peace, de-escalation practices, and accountability for those officers who use excessive force or otherwise abuse their power of authority.

    Mike B was clearly not merely being detained. He was being physically and brutally subdued and mortally threatened with a firearm to his head. If a person is being compliant to an officer’s verbal command, there is no color of skin for which treatment like that is warranted.

    So, I may just kneel with Michael Bennett during this Sunday’s anthem.

    • art thiel

      I’d feel better about the police action if they produced video or eyewitness accounts of Bennett doing anything other than what anyone does upon hearing gunfire in a public place.

  • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

    When some of the loudest complaints about this issue come from whites who are simply angry about politics being injected into sports, you know there’s a big problem. This is so much bigger than politics and the games we enjoy watching. As a white male, I don’t know the fear that people of color experience on a daily basis around law enforcement. I do know based on a mounting body of evidence that their fears are justified. Therefore, I’m going to do my best to continue listening and learning. I’ve applauded Michael as a player for many years. Now I applaud him more as a human being. We must not be silent. Thank you Art.

    • roger_lococco

      A perfect 10 on the Virtue Signal Meter.
      Congratulations.

      • Matt Kite

        Virtue Signaling: “the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group.” The comment by discus_aEA4p3zFXu doesn’t strike me as disingenuous. Pity those who are too cynical to recognize humanity when they see it.

        • art thiel

          It’s also possible that the writer may have been sincere. Or is that out of fashion these days?

          • Matt Kite

            Thank you, Art, for putting it more succinctly than I did. (I got hung up on roger_lococco’s snark…)

    • art thiel

      The paying of attention is one of the most expensive gifts that can be given.

  • Steed

    There may not be video of Bennett running but that point is not in dispute. Bennett said he ran when everybody else did because they thought they heard gunshots.

  • DAWG

    Standard equipment for all police. Body cameras required to be active when engaged with the public. Lose your job as an officer if this is not practiced. End of story.

    • art thiel

      I don’t know the rules for each jurisdiction, including LV. It’s not always mandatory.

      • DAWG

        King County Sheriff Urquhart has been sending out the right message. The law is slow to change. But, body cameras are inevitable in the large urban areas. Unions can fight it, but that will not protect their members from public view and critical judgment. Urquhart has his officers best interests in mind as well as the publics. Slow, but body cameras are coming. Until then watch the “fun”.

  • tor5

    It seems cops have to walk a razor’s edge of taking charge of situations and going toe to toe with bad guys, but also serving the community, suppressing their biases, and being controlled in situations of uncertainty. That’s a tough job, but the ability to draw this line is really the difference between a good cop and a bad cop. It looks like Bennett encountered the latter. I don’t know how police departments can do better at weeding out the bad ones, but it’s a major challenge for our day.

    • art thiel

      Panic situations require the best of law enforcement skills. Haven’t seen that so far.

  • roger_lococco

    I just love how one side is completely believed – because it fits your bias – and the other side is completely dismissed … even though we’ve only heard one side.

    Let the facts come out. Let’s see why nobody else but Bennett was apprehended instead of taking his word as Gospel truth.

    To me, it’s just way, way too convenient for Mr. Football Star to have this perfect situation dropped into his lap in order to further push his social agenda. But, we’ll see.

    And it’s too bad, Art. You used to be a good sports writer. Now, you’re simply an apologist and cheerleader for the left side of the aisle.

    • Effzee

      Art it isn’t a cheerleader for the left side of the aisle. This isn’t a left versus right thing, no matter how you’d like to minimize it as such. This is a right versus wrong thing. People who defend bullies and abusers are descpicable no matter what side of the political spectrum they reside in. Defenders of Antifa are just as despicable as defenders of the Alt-Right. I’m a white male embroiled in a nasty parenting case against an abuser and a bully who everyone believes socially, because they just can’t believe she did what she did, even though the pled guilty to it and has lost all residential rights to our child. It’s unbelievable to watch the system seemingly go to all lengths to protect, coddle, and endable the corrupt, the abusive, the most vile and violent in our society. It’s becoming unbearable to watch true victims get villified time after time after time.

    • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

      If you don’t care for Bennett and Thiel, why the hell are you even here? Just whining and bitching for the sake of it?

      • Effzee

        Not to mention this was an article about something that happened to a beloved local athlete, and this troll injected his politics into it.

        • art thiel

          It’s the prism through which many people view all things. It’s like some in the religious right saying that hurricanes are God’s answer to the sin and immorality in places like Houston and Miami.

          • Tman

            is it possible the creator is not happy with Texas oilmen and their creations?

          • Effzee

            No. The creator is no more unhappy with sin and immorality than with oilmen. Mostly because there is no such creator.

          • Tman

            Hmm. It is a perfect world. How might it have happened?
            The eternal question.

            In another vein, here’s a video on Michael Bennett and politics in sports. Good from beginning to end. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjTEaVDFFvk

    • Tman

      loco..name one good thing anyone on the right side of the aisle has done for the people of America, or the world, since the end of the civil war.

    • art thiel

      Thankfully, Roger, I have you to apply the old trick of false compliment to set up criticism. Long ago, I had a high school coach talk me out of that sort of thing.

    • Tien Doan

      I agree Roger, we do need to hear both sides of the story.

      We’ve heard Michael Bennet’s side and seen the videos that appear to support his version of what happened. Where are the videos (how convenient that the videos of the body cameras on both of the officers involved in this incident aren’t thus far available) or eyewitness accounts from the police’s side that that explain why he was singled out, taken into custody, and threatened?…other than the inconvenient fact that he’s a big black man of course.

      I actually have a lot of respect for law enforcement. I think most officers are great and do the best they can in a very challenging and dangerous job. But here’s the thing, just because we can sympathize with how difficult a job is doesn’t mean people get a pass when they screw up or do bad things on the job, especially when those people are armed & authorized to use deadly force.

      As with any population in society, I have no doubt that a percentage of police officers are outright racist and some of the unjustified shootings/killings we’ve seen in the news can be attributed to racism but I also think that some of these bad shootings are also caused by poor training and hiring officers with the wrong mentality (i.e. the police is there to serve & protect the community and yet, I get the impression that some act as if they’re part of an occupying force that needs to subdue the local population). But regardless if it’s racism/prejudice or poor training or judgment, if police officers do bad things, they need to be held accountable otherwise, the public trust of law enforcement will only erode.

      And if we can’t acknowledge that we all should be concerned about the number of unarmed civilians being shot and killed by the police on a regular basis, we won’t be able to determine the root causes for these bad shootings and figure out solutions to decrease/eliminate them.