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Sheriff: Police Right to Stop NFL Star Bennett; No Wrongdoing By Officers Found

LAS VEGAS (KXNT, AP) – Following an extensive review, Las Vegas’ top law enforcement officer says there’s no evidence to support the claims of Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett that officers racially profiled or used excessive force against the NFL star during a Las Vegas Strip confrontation last month.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told reporters Friday that a review of over 800 surveillance videos, including body-worn cameras from officers, found to support for Bennett’s allegations that an officer aimed his weapon at Bennett’s head and threatened to shoot the NFL player.

The confrontation happened just outside The Cromwell on Las Vegas Blvd. South early Aug. 27, just hours after the star-studded Floyd Mayweather Jr-Conor McGregor boxing match. Police arrived following reports of gunfire inside the Cromwell, claims which ultimately proved to be incorrect.

“Mr. Bennett has a valid perspective as a person who experienced a reasonable-suspicion stop for a felony crime,” Lombardo told reporters. “Those who experience such a stop, especially when they have not committed a crime, are not likely to feel good about it.”

Lombardo said Bennett ran behind a row of slot machines, then failed to stop when officers spotted him running from the crowded casino while officers looking for what they believed might be a gunman.

The video shows an obviously upset Bennett claiming an officer put a gun on him. Las Vegas officers tried to calm Bennett and repeatedly told him he was being detained for his safety and was not under arrest.

But Lombardo said there was nothing to support Bennett’s allegation, made in a Twitter post more than a week later, that an officer put a gun to Bennett’s head and threatened to blow his head off.

“From the evidence we have at this point, we don’t know (the officer) said that,” the sheriff said.

Bennett’s post, titled “Dear World,” said, “Las Vegas police officers 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 announced in early August that he would sit during the national anthem this season to protest social injustice and was one the first NFL players to protest this year. He made the decision before protests by white supremacists at the University of Virginia. But Bennett said his decision was solidified by what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, including the death of a young woman who was struck by a car deliberately driven into a group of counter-protesters.

Bennett has remained 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 who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in June. Police said the woman 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

Bennett’s attorney, John Burris in Oakland, California, said he wants to review videos more closely. But he said he believed the clips shown verified Bennett’s accounts.

“He was not acting improperly,” Burris told The Associated Press. “He was not acting suspicious. He was not involved in any criminal activity.”

“There’s nothing to go on, no description, other than you see this big black man running,” the attorney added. “He was running like everyone else, trying to get away.”

Burris said the officer’s gun was near Bennett’s while he was being handcuffed, and he said he heard profanity in audio recordings captured on body-camera video. Burris said he heard no reference to race.

“There’s a dispute over whether he threatened to blow his head off,” the attorney said. “But there’s no question that the officer said, ‘Keep your hands up and keep them where I can see them.’ ”

Lombardo used a stop-motion narrative of casino surveillance video showing Bennett appear to dart behind a row of slot machines, and then body camera video from a sergeant joining the chase when officers noticed him running.

Neither Lombardo nor the executive of the 3,000-member Las Vegas police officers’ union, who attended the media briefing, identified the officers involved in the incident.

Union official Steve Grammas said he believed Bennett owes them an apology.

The officer who chased Bennett and handcuffed him didn’t have his body camera on at the time, Lombardo said, and might face departmental discipline.

Otherwise, “I believe they acted appropriately and professionally,” the sheriff said of the officers.

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