Several weeks ago I wrote this article about an incident involving Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks and Las Vegas police, after which Mr. Bennett said he was considering filing what now appears would be a frivolous and very ill-advised civil rights lawsuit.
Police have now released video showing actual film of the incident in question that puts Mr. Bennett at great risk of serious embarrassment in court, should he follow through on his threat to file suit.
The picture of reckless and threatening behavior of the police that Mr. Bennett painted for the media was admittedly a very disturbing one. He implied that as a large crowd of people were running for their lives, racist cops singled Mr. Bennett out of the crowd because he was a large black man, treating him roughly and with unnecessary force, when he was innocent of any wrongdoing. The problem is that his claims are patently absurd. Maybe Mr. Bennett really didn’t do anything that should have led to his arrest, or maybe he did.
In either event, the video evidence tells us a much different story…
To be brutally honest, Michael Bennett’s lawyers wouldn’t want me on their jury, because here’s what I’ve seen on tape: The police enter the casino with their weapons drawn and ready because they are responding to reports of an active shooter.
Obviously, the police are prepared to encounter a bad guy with a gun, hiding somewhere in the casino. Smart move.
These officers would probably much rather drink coffee in the cliched donut shop, but the job description calls for responding to a dangerous threat with controlled aggression. The brave men and women shown in the video are willing and capable of doing the job.
When I watch it, it occurs to me that I’m seeing a team of well-trained professionals at work…a team that might even be well-trained and disciplined enough to play football. Anyway, the police tell the patrons of the casino to exit for their own safety as they search for the alleged gunman. Most customers have already fled in panic. There are some people scattered around the building, most making their way toward the exits. One man is even shown lying spread-eagled on the floor so police can see he’s unarmed and poses no threat.
The casino looks mostly empty. After their initial pass moving swiftly through the casino looking for a suspect brandishing a gun, the police turn around and sweep through the building a second time.
That’s when Mr. Bennett emerges from his hiding place, behind a slot machine. He crouches down low, before making a mad dash for the exit. He’s not acting like a man running in fear of a lunatic; he’s behaving like a man running in fear from the police.
Quite frankly, Mr. Bennett’s version of the events that followed simply don’t match with the video evidence. Not even close.
While the police do subdue him as a potential suspect, handcuff and briefly detain him, they explain to Mr. Bennett the reason it happened, shake hands, apologize and promptly release him as soon as he was properly identified and eliminated as a suspect. The only way Mr. Bennett could have been shot by mistake was if he had made a sudden move that created the impression he actually held a gun.
None of the officers involved in Mr. Bennett’s brief detainment were white. So how can racism possibly be involved? We seem to have two choices on what we may conclude from this — in the heat of the moment, Mr. Bennett panicked, just as we might expect any normal person would given the circumstances. He became terribly confused about the details of what had actually just transpired. The video clearly shows that his version of events doesn’t match what actually happened, but the mistake was honest, and he genuinely felt had mortal fear for his own life.
The problem with giving Mr. Bennett the benefit of our doubt is that he seems to have doubled down on his ludicrously claims. Through his attorney, Bennett is insisting the video evidence supports his version of events. But it doesn’t.
We might also draw from the evidence available to the public a much uglier conclusion — this incident was planned and intended as a setup for the police.
Something that sounded like gunshots started a panic, Who knows…maybe some jerk lit some firecrackers as a stupid prank. Maybe even because it would start a panic. Maybe this hypothetical overgrown child has a first name of Michael. Or maybe her name is Michelle. Or maybe a car backfired somewhere on the Sunset Strip, and a weird echo somehow reverberated through the inside of a nearby building. The point is that we may never know how the panic started, or whether it was deliberately started, and guessing doesn’t help much.
We do know that cops deserve to make it home safely to their families at the end of the shift, yet they are being asked to run toward the sound of the gunshots. This is why I could never be a police officer — I’ve always been much too soft-hearted. I’d be the cop who wanted to wait until the bad guy takes the first shot, and that’s how police officers get killed in the line of duty. We also know that while Mr. Bennett claims he didn’t do anything that any other patron of the casino had done, but video doesn’t lie.
Mr. Bennett’s behavior in the casino was most certainly suspicious. One now can only wonder if his actions were suspicious on purpose.