There are a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous in the case of Michael Bennett and and the security forces at the Super Bowl in Houston, but here is the reality of the situation: If this thing goes to trial, based on what information is publicly available, it’s Michael Bennett’s word vs. that of a police officer and a 66-year-old paraplegic stadium worker.
Bennett cannot have that.
Bennett is accused of shoving the woman as he yelled obscenities and blew past police and security to get on the field at the end of the Super Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston in 2017. The Chief of Police, Art Acevedo, said the woman, who was injured, has been an “extremely cooperative” witness, and that Bennett was at the time of the alleged assault disobeying the orders of an officer, who also witnessed it. Crucially — an astonishingly — there is no known video of the incident, so Bennett only had one course of action: Turn himself in on a felony charge of injury to the elderly, and assert his innocence (which is presumed) through famed Houston attorney-to-the-stars Rusty Hardin.
Attorney Rusty Hardin said Bennett’s defense against the charge of striking an elderly paraplegic security guard in the aftermath of Super Bowl LI will be that “he just flat-out didn’t do it. It wasn’t a case of, ‘He didn’t shove her that hard,’ or anything like that. … He never touched her.”
Bennett’s side of the story, as told through Hardin, is that there were a whole bunch of people plowing through there, and that woman doesn’t know who knocked into her. She was treated for her injuries and prescribed medication.
This is the police play-by-play of the incident, as transcribed from the press conference:
She was in a pretty heavy motorized wheelchair. And so it pushed her back and kinda strained her shoulder, you know what I mean? Because (of) the force. I believe the chair is about 800 pounds. That’s what she told me.
The wheelchair didn’t move. It’s 800 pounds. That (blow) kinda strained the shoulder.
Acevedo said the officer who witnessed the incident knew who Bennett was, and chose not to pursue him because he knew Bennett wasn’t a threat to others in the stadium, and because he needed to tend to the injured woman. The officer filed a report and it got put in with the giant stack of murder cases and stabbings and everything else that goes on in a city the size of Houston. Knowing they’d have no trouble finding Bennett when they needed him, police prioritized other cases for over seven months. According to Acevedo, the detective began actively working the case in September of 2017–a skeptic might note that Bennett’s highly-publicized accusation of mistreatment by the Las Vegas Police came on September 6–and interviews of the complainant and the police officer witness came on September 27th and 28th. A day after that witness interview, the Las Vegas Police released their video contradicting Bennett’s claims of racial profiling.
If it comes to it, the defense presumably will speculate as to whether Houston police had a more personal or political motivation to charge Bennett, and Acevedo helped the defense’s cause by offering up an unusual string of judgments not about the case or the evidence, but about the subjective nature of the defendant.
“You’re morally corrupt if you put your hands on a little old lady in a wheelchair,” Acevedo said. “That is morally corrupt.”
Nobody would disagree with this, but keep in mind Acevedo is talking about an incident he didn’t witness, and of which he says there is no video. Further, this sort of commentary is best left for judges at sentencing, not police officers during an open case.
There is a debate to be had about whether Acevedo’s extraneous commentary prejudiced the jury, although those arguments are notoriously difficult to win. It was out of turn, and probably unethical, but Acevedo’s Detour is unlikely to backfire on him. What it does indicate, however, is that the police chief in Houston is fired up at the chance to teach Michael Bennett a lesson about respect.
“It was complete and total disregard for the authority of that officer, the complete and total disregard of the authority of the security personnel, and the complete and total disregard and disrespect and criminal assault on several people,” Acevedo said. “It’s very offensive to me that a man that’s supposed to be an example, a professional athlete, would think it’s OK to treat people like this. … A guy who decides to push a 66-year-old black female paraplegic little old woman that’s trying to make a living, making a fraction of what he’s making, not only that they have to put up with his verbal abuse, but had to put up with his physical assault.”
If the district attorney has half that much of the redass, Bennett’s going to be sitting there in the box trying to convince a Houston jury that a police officer and a little old lady in an 800-pound wheelchair are liars. Fending off that would be quite the goal-line stand.
I’m not a lawyer, but while this one is being fought in the court of public opinion, I’m betting it doesn’t come to that in an actual courtroom.