DANNY ONEIL

O’Neil: ‘Detained’ doesn’t do justice to describe Michael Bennett’s police encounter in Las Vegas

Sep 7, 2017, 9:10 AM | Updated: 9:24 am
Kevin McMahill, Las Vegas police undersheriff, said race had nothing to do with Michael Bennett bei...
Kevin McMahill, Las Vegas police undersheriff, said race had nothing to do with Michael Bennett being detained on Aug. 26 after the Mayweather-McGregor fight. (AP)
(AP)

“The event resulted in Mr. Bennett being detained for approximately 10 minutes during the investigation.”
— Las Vegas police briefing

Well that doesn’t sound so bad.

Detained.

It’s almost like Michael Bennett was subjected to little more than a brief inconvenience while officers sorted through a tense situation in which they were searching a casino for an armed assailant. It sounds downright reasonable.

Except in this case “detained” meant having an officer order him at gunpoint to lay face down on the asphalt in the street outside a casino. Not the sidewalk, the street. “Detained” meant having his hands cuffed behind his back so tightly Bennett said his fingers went numb.

Bennett: Some aren’t here to tell their story that experienced what I did

Detained was more than an inconvenience for Bennett. Detained was forcible subjugation, and before we try to put Bennett’s interaction with police into any sort of broader context, pause right now and ask yourself if it’s OK that Bennett was treated this way.

I don’t think it’s OK. I don’t think it’s reasonable. I don’t think it’s fair. Most importantly, I don’t think that’s how I would have been treated by police had it been me – a 5-foot-8 (maybe), pudgy, 42-year-old white dude – who was hiding behind a gaming machine until I was spotted by police and then running out of the casino.

I think it’s really, really dangerous and potentially tragic, and the fact that Bennett was running out of the casino – when so many others weren’t just doing so, but had been told to do so – does not explain away what happened afterward.

I’m saddened that Bennett went through that. I’m mad, too, and as I listened to Kevin McMahill of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department explain what had happened I began to hear how this sort of thing gets minimized or excused.

It starts with a word like “detained” and it continues in the focus on the fact Bennett ran from the casino after he was spotted by officers. McMahill pointed out that officers could clearly be heard shouting for him to stop. Of course, officers could clearly be heard earlier in the video instructing other people out of the casino, too, in what was a chaotic and frightening scene.

Police officers have an incredibly difficult job. They are required to diagnose constantly changing situations in dangerous circumstances all the time. I don’t pretend to know how difficult it is, but I think the job can be done better and more fairly than it was in this case. No wait, I think the job needs to be done better and more fairly than it was in this case.

I can understand why Bennett was frightened enough to run. I can understand why his running would arouse the suspicions of police.

What I can’t understand is that of all the people in the video that are shown fleeing the casino – and there are dozens if not hundreds others who did – why Bennett was the one singled out as the potential perpetrator.

And above all else, I simply can’t understand why it took 10 minutes of keeping Bennett – who was unarmed – handcuffed before realizing he had done nothing wrong.

McMahill couldn’t say whether other suspects were detained in a similar fashion. He couldn’t say what led officers to zero in on him when he was seen hiding behind a gaming machine. They had no description of a suspect at all, let alone one that Bennett may have matched, so the central question is why Bennett was seen – and then treated – as a criminal suspect.

Is it because he was big and he was black and he had an unkempt beard? Because with all due respect, I’m not going to take McMahill’s denial that race had nothing to do with it as the final word on the subject.

What happened to Michael Bennett in Las Vegas was not an investigation. It wasn’t an interrogation. It was an apprehension, and for anyone arguing that this was a no-harm, no-foul situation, think about how little would have needed to happen on either side for someone to be hurt in this situation or worse.

More specifically, think about how easy it would have been for Bennett to be hurt. Or worse.

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O’Neil: ‘Detained’ doesn’t do justice to describe Michael Bennett’s police encounter in Las Vegas