Michael Bennett, a star defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, has enlisted the help of Oakland-based lawyer John Burris as he considers taking legal action against the Las Vegas Police Department following an alleged excessive use of force incident.
Bennett claims a Las Vegas officer pinned him to the ground and held a gun to his head, according to a statement. The officer then threatened to "blow my f------ head off," Bennett said, if he moved. Moments later, Bennett says another officer restrained him in a way that made it difficult for him to breathe and feel any sensation in his fingers.
Las Vegas police Officer Jacinto Rivera said police were checking for casino and police body camera video and written reports. He said the department couldn't immediately verify Bennett's account or identify the officers involved.
"Without looking at video footage or reading any reports we can't say yet what happened," Rivera said.
The incident allegedly occurred after the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match in Las Vegas on Aug. 26, according to the football star's statement. Bennett wrote that he was walking back to his hotel after the fight when he — along with others in the area — heard what sounded like gunshots. Bennett ran from the area, but as he was fleeing, he said Las Vegas police "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."
Bennett then said he was ordered to get on the ground, according to the statement. He said he complied with an officer's commands, but alleges that the officer put a gun to his head.
A short time later, another officer arrived and reportedly "jammed" his knee into the football player's back and handcuffed him "so tight that my fingers went numb," Bennett wrote.
A video posted by celebrity news site TMZ shows a view from a balcony as a police officer kneels on the back of a man who looks like Bennett. Protests are heard, including, "I wasn't doing nothing," and, "I was here with my friends. They told us to get out and everybody ran."
Burris confirmed the words were Bennett's. The attorney said he believed the 30-second video clip showed some of how his client was treated.
"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."
Bennett was released only after the officers discovered he was a professional football player and was not involved in the incident. It was later determined the "shots fired" call was a false report.
During a news conference Wednesday, Las Vegas police denied the allegations that Bennett was detained because of his skin color.
Bennett, who has been a leader in the national anthem protests spearheaded by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, noted that the incident appeared to be racially motivated.
"The officers' excessive use of force was unbearable," Bennett wrote in the statement. "I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed 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.'"
Bennett was transported to a police car, held for what the football star claims was "an eternity" and later released, according to the statement.
With the help of Burris, Bennett may look into filing a civil rights lawsuit against the department.
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.
Bennett, whose brother Martellus plays for the Packers, has been one of the most outspoken pro athletes on numerous social issues. Last month, he held a benefit for the family of a pregnant black woman fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in June. Police say she threatened the officers with at least one knife after calling 911 to report that someone had broken into her apartment and stolen video-game consoles. The woman's family says the shooting could have been avoided and that they believe race was a factor.
"For me it's always finding a way to impact the community on every single level; locally, nationally, and globally," Bennett said following the benefit. "To be able to have something happen in your city and to be able to build a bridge between people regardless of color, regardless of gender, and regardless of economic hardships, you want to be able to bring people together and be able to do something for kids."
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said the organization stands behind Bennett and his claims.
Las Vegas police said they won't be looking at the arresting officer's bodycam video from the incident because he never turned it on.
NBC Bay Area's Kim Yonenaka contributed to this report.
Warning: The following statement contains explicit language.
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