The tumultuous Seahawks off-season now has a sidebar drama: A felony assault charge against the franchise’s 2017 Man of the Year for his community work, whose attorney said Monday that Houston police and prosecutors got it all wrong.
Michael Bennett, now a defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles after a trade, flew from his home in Hawaii to turn himself in Monday to a Harris County district court and was expected to post a $10,000 bond — he was briefly held in handcuffs, a standard processing custom in felony cases — and was released. He didn’t speak to reporters.
Bennett was indicted Friday by a grand jury on a felony assault case from 13 months ago when he was charged with injuring an elderly person after Super Bowl LI as he sought to push through a door to reach the field.
His new attorney, Rusty Hardin, whom some sports fans may remember as the attorney who defended baseball star Roger Clemens against charges in the 2006 Mitchell Report that claimed he used performance-enhancing drugs, did talk to reporters.
He said Bennett did not strike Barbara Tatman, 66, a contract security worker. Bennett was attempting to get through a locked door to the field at NRG Stadium in Houston after Super Bowl LI, in which the New England Patriots, with his brother, Martellus, beat the Atlanta Falcons.
At a press conference Friday (full video here), Houston police chief Art Acevedo said Bennett shoved Tatman, a paraplegic aboard an 800-pound motorized cart, hard enough to sprain her shoulder. Bennett allegedly forced open the door and took the field, saying, “You all must not know who I am,” according to a Houston police officer who Acevedo said witnessed the exchange.
Acevedo called Bennett “morally bankrupt.”
“Michael never touched her,” Hardin said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Michael never bumped into her . . . he never laid a hand on her. (They) do not have the whole story. I’m not going to fault the DA’s office for that at all. They presented what they had to the grand jury, but they didn’t have . . . what a lot of people would have liked to have in order to make up their minds.”
Hardin claimed that he interviewed witnesses to the episode Sunday and learned the scene was more chaotic, and included a larger number of Patriots family members who wanted to join the party on the field. He said police and prosecutors were not provided evidence he said will exonerate Bennett.
“Everybody is going to re-investigate this case,” Hardin said. “We will present to them everything we have, and at the end of the day I am comfortable they will conclude this charge should not have been filed. This guy didn’t do it.
“I don’t know who did or what happened. I know what the indictment says. I just know (Bennett) didn’t do anything. Like the chief of police, I wasn’t there. Unlike the chief of police, I can tell you right now this guy’s not morally bankrupt. He’s one of the best people I’ve met.”
Of Acevedo, who went on at length Friday to condemn Bennett’s actions, Hardin said, “I think he’s a good chief of police. He was totally over the top on Friday, and at the end of the day he’s going to regret it, because he will find he wasn’t given good information.”
Acevedo said Friday there was no video of the episode, but one of his officers witnessed parts of it. The next hearing in the case is April 23.
Bennett, 32, went to high school in Houston and attended Texas A&M at College Station, 100 miles northwest. From 2013 to 2017 in Seattle, he became one of the NFL’s most engaging and noteworthy personalities and a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
He was also a subject of controversy because he was among the highest-profile NFL players to protest social injustice by sitting during the national anthem during parts of the past two seasons.
Last summer he was briefly detained at gunpoint by Las Vegas police who were pursuing what they thought was an active shooter in a casino. There was no shooter, but because Bennett ran with others and failed to stop when ordered, he was forced to the sidewalk and handcuffed.
He later charged police with racial profiling and use of excessive force, charges strongly denied by police.
Whatever becomes of the Houston episode, apparently there will be no complaints from the Eagles regarding whether the Seahawks withheld information about Bennett prior to the March 7 trade.
Speaking to reporters Monday at the annual NFL meetings in Orlando, Howie Roseman, Eagles executive vice president of football operations, said he was good with Seahawks general manager John Schneider’s word that he knew nothing about Bennett’s altercation.
“I want to be clear,” Roseman said. “There’s probably not a person, and I’m going to put him on the same ground as a bunch of people, that we trust more than John Schneider and the Seahawks. So there is nothing that we felt like they did wrong, or there is any blame in this matter. It’s a unique circumstance and we’ll deal with it as we go.”
At the meeting, Schneider confirmed it was news to him.
“No, I didn’t know anything about it,” Schneider told reporters. “And I have a great relationship with Howie and (team owner Jeffrey Lurie). We would never do that.”
The thought of Bennett’s football problem of chronic offsides penalties now seems quaint.