ORLANDO, Fla. — While Eagles vice president Howie Roseman was discussing the third-degree felony charge against defensive end Michael Bennett with reporters Monday at the NFL Meetings in Orlando, Bennett was in the process of posting $10,000 bail in Houston.
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.”
Hardin maintained that nearly everyone in the New England Patriots’ “family” section was trying to figure out how to get on the field to celebrate at NRG Stadium that night, including Bennett, whose brother Martellus played tight end for the victorious Patriots.
“There were bunches of families going through that door,” Hardin told the Inquirer and the Daily News. “They all tried different places. Everybody sort of streamed through there. I’m not sure this woman knew who [shoved her.]”
In the wake of the grand jury indictment of Bennett on Friday, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo called Bennett “morally bankrupt.” He said there was no video of the incident but said it was witnessed by a Houston police officer. What Bennett allegedly did normally would be classified as a misdemeanor, but because the complainant was 66 years old, it rose to the level of felony. She is said to have suffered a sprained shoulder.
Hardin said he has witnesses who will maintain that Bennett was not involved in an altercation. He said the prosecution apparently has not talked to these people and “may not know who they are,” but he will present their accounts. Bennett’s next court appearance is set for April 23.
Hardin said he remains mystified by Acevedo’s vitriolic press conference.
“I’ve never seen it before. We don’t talk about capital murder defendants like that,” Hardin said.
A Houston Police Department spokesman said the department stands by Acevedo’s remarks Friday. He said since the matter is now in the courts, any further comment would have to come from the district attorney’s office. The DA’s office has not responded to a request for a response to Hardin’s statements.
Roseman, meanwhile, said that he has discussed the matter with Bennett, and that the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher “is innocent until proven guilty,” which would seem to squash any speculation that the Eagles will release Bennett before the matter is settled.
Roseman said the Eagles did not know about the Houston incident when they traded with the Seattle Seahawks for Bennett on March 8. Hardin said Bennett knew the police “were looking into” an incident at the Super Bowl.
“There’s probably not a person … we trust more than [general manager] John Schneider and the Seahawks. There is nothing that we feel they did wrong, or that there is any blame in this matter,” Roseman said. “It’s a unique circumstance and we’ll deal with it as we go.”
“I think we’re in a great country,” Roseman said. “And in this country, people are presumed innocent, and I think we’ve got to be fair about that in all of these matters. I don’t think it’s fair in any situation to not give people the right to present their side. … Our overriding philosophy on things is people are innocent until proven guilty.”
Roseman said the Eagles do a lot of background work on the players they acquire.
“For us, fit is very important, because obviously, fit was a big reason that we won [Super Bowl LII]. So, we’re not doing anything where we’re doing it nonchalant … we’re continuing to gather information as we get it. I think more information will come,” he said.
Bennett flew from his home in Hawaii to appear Monday before Harris County 177th District Court Judge Robert Johnson, Bennett wearing a black cardigan, a white dress shirt and maroon pants. The prosecutor agreed with Hardin that a $10,000 bond would be sufficient, and that Bennett should be allowed to travel back and forth from Hawaii for appearances. Johnson stipulated that Bennett is to have no contact of any kind with the complainant.
Hardin said Bennett will remain in the Houston area for a few days, visiting family.
Hardin tried to arrange for Bennett to immediately go on to processing, but Johnson told Hardin: “We don’t do walkthroughs. We want to treat everybody the same.”
Bennett then was told to take a seat in the jury box while Johnson dealt with the rest of his docket. Bennett was fingerprinted while the judge was hearing a presentation about a hit-and-run case.