ORLANDO — As Michael Bennett’s potential trial on an assault charge moves forward in Houston, the league will begin investigating the Philadelphia Eagles defensive end to determine if he committed a possible personal-conduct violation in an alleged assault following Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league did become aware of potential charges against Bennett prior to last week’s grand jury indictment and assault charges brought by the Houston Police Department. However, McCarthy said the NFL was contacted by police “late in the process.” He didn’t elaborate on a time frame – or whether the NFL’s notice occurred before Bennett was traded from the Seattle Seahawks to the Eagles on March 7.
The notification from authorities “was more of a heads up that they were working on this,” McCarthy said. “That was the extent of it.”
If the league’s investigation into Bennett determines he committed a personal-conduct violation, he could face a suspension or fine. But even if that materializes, the legal process will apparently play out before any action is taken by the NFL.
“We’re not going to interfere with the investigation,” McCarthy said. “If we can help, we will do so. But we don’t interfere with the judicial process.”
Bennett is facing up to 10 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine for the felony assault charge, which Houston police said stems from him allegedly making contact with three individuals and injuring a 66-year old paraplegic security worker while entering the postgame field following Super Bowl LI. While there is no video of the alleged incident, the police have touted several witnesses, including a police officer who was working security during the Super Bowl.
Bennett turned himself in on Monday and posted bond, with his attorney repeatedly denying he initiated contact with the 66-year old security worker.
“He did not touch her,” Bennett’s attorney Rusty Hardin told Yahoo Sports Tuesday. “The Houston police chief does not have the full picture. The district attorney does not have the full picture. And the grand jury did not have the full picture. People will see that. And they’ll see the assault charge never should have been filed.”
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo gave an eyebrow-raising news conference last week, calling Bennett “morally corrupt” and “morally bankrupt,” and at one point speculated that Bennett “might have been drinking” the day of the alleged incident. Acevedo also repeatedly defended the timeline of the investigation, stating that the near 14-month lapse between the incident and charges was due to a prioritization of other cases.
Acevedo also attempted to undercut “conspiracy theories” in relation to the timing of the investigation, which by Acevedo’s account was “actively worked” by a detective starting in September 2017 – the same month Bennett accused the Las Vegas police of targeting him in an active shooter incident in late August because of his race. Bennett has also been one of the league’s most outspoken voices about social injustices involving the relationship between law enforcement and minorities. His allegations in August 2017 made national headlines, including an accusation that an officer pointed a gun at his head, ultimately drawing a stiff and public rebuke from the Las Vegas Police Department.
While Acevedo didn’t reference that particular row between Bennett and police, he did reference “conspiracies” as to why the Houston Police Department didn’t dive into his assault charge until that same September time period.
“In a world of conspiracies, I’m just going to say right now – in a world of ‘We’ve got to find something to complain about’ – this case took some time,” Acevedo said. “But it took some time because we assessed the threat to the community, and quite frankly, we put cases that involved stabbings, shootings and other serious crimes [as a priority]. … We knew exactly where to find this man and we knew that as soon as we got to work on it, we’d be able to make that case.”
Acevedo said Bennett’s assault case was assigned to the Houston Police Department’s homicide unit in May 2017 – some three months after the incident allegedly occurred. Acevedo said it was then put on the back burner and not actively pursued until nearly five months later, when a detective began interviewing witnesses in late September.
Acevedo indicated during his news conference that the police were in contact with the NFL about the incident but declined to make the content of those discussions public.
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