Benson was a star at UT Austin but has been a bust on the field in Chicago, so his legal troubles aren't earning him much love among Windy City sportswriters or fans. But since I still remember Benson's Texas career fondly (and as a Cowboys fan, suffer no bitterness regarding the Bears wasting their #4 draft pick on him in 2005), I wanted to highlight some of the oddities about the case that are slowly creeping out and casting doubt on the original story put out by LCRA.
First, I was as curious as Jamie Spencer exactly how they perform a field test "to prove his sobriety while he is still standing on his boat. While it’s on the water. Moving around. Waves underneath the boat." That seems like an inexact science, at best!
Then we learn that the accounts from other witnesses cast a different light entirely on the event. One scared person on the boat actually called 911 to report Benson was being abused by police! The Sporting News reported:
Elizabeth Cartwright, a 22-year-old friend of Benson's from the University of Texas, told the newspaper, "I called my dad and told him, 'Call 911, my black friend is getting beaten up by police on Lake Travis.' It's more what I heard than what I saw. I have never heard or seen Cedric that scared."His mother was on the boat? How drunk do you really suppose the guy was riding around with his Mom! An unsympathetic Jay Mariotti in the Chicago Sun Times gives Benson's version of events:
Unaware the friend in question was Benson, Jeff Cartwright called 911 and told the dispatcher that police "were beating up a black kid on Lake Travis," the Tribune reports.
Elizabeth Cartwright has written her version of events and wants to submit her account as evidence supporting Benson's claims that he was mistreated by authorities. Benson is scheduled to appear in Travis County Court on May 19.
Lower Colorado River Authority officers said Benson failed a sobriety test while operating a 30-foot boat on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas, and resisted arrest before being hit with pepper spray, Travis County Sheriff's Department spokesman Roger Wade said Sunday.
Benson was released from jail early Sunday on a $14,500 bond. The charges are class B misdemeanors, each punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Cartwright, an English major at UT, said she and her fiance had been boating with Benson about six times this spring and each time the Lower Colorado River Authority pulled them over for a safety check.
She said Benson was irritated when the police approached the boat Saturday because of the number of times he has been stopped on Lake Travis.
After the boat passed a safety inspection, Benson was asked to step into the LCRA boat for a sobriety test.
The police say Benson smelled "strongly" of alcohol, became "cocky" and needed to be forcibly removed from his boat.
Cartwright says Benson had two drinks and was not drunk. She also says Benson screamed after being pepper-sprayed, begging his mother, who was in the boating party, for help, saying, "Please stop, Mom, make them please stop."
As it turns out, it's not just Benson's family and friends who say the LCRA cops crossed the line. KXAN-TV quoted another witness who gave this account of watching them drag Benson off the boat when they got to shore:
Benson would avoid league punishment if he indeed wasn't drunk and didn't resist arrest. "I was not intoxicated. There was alcohol on the boat, and others were enjoying themselves, but I wasn't drunk," he told the Sun-Times earlier this week, adding that he was cooperative throughout the ordeal. His description of how he allegedly was dragged to a car, which hauled him to jail, is chilling.
"They kicked my feet out from under me and slammed my face down," he said. "They had a hose and were running it over my face. They were choking me and stuff, not with their hands but with the hose in my face. I couldn't breathe. I don't know if they did that because of the pepper spray, but I didn't ask them to put the hose in my face."Obviously, someone here is lying, either Benson or the arresting officers. If we ever learn the actual truth, it will be inside a courtroom in several weeks ...
"It was uncalled for, it was ludicrous, no point for it," said Toby Patch.I'm not a fan of administrative agencies like the Lower Colorado River Authority having their own police officers for precisely this reason. LCRA was created to operate the dam system along the Colorado River, not to operate its own police force. There's no good reason this function can't be performed by the Travis County Sheriff's Department.
Patch said what he saw at the Emerald Point Marina Saturday makes him distrust law enforcement.
"It seemed to me they were manhandling him a little bit," Patch said. "As they were taking him up the dock, they stopped, he said, ‘I am fine, I can continue walking,' and they put their legs behind his knees and knocked him over his knees and started hog-carrying him."
Then he said when the officers got Benson to the parking area, things really got out of hand.
"They ended up -- I don't know why -- but laid him on his back, I heard him say, 'Please don't pepper spray me, please don't pepper spray me,'" Patch said.
Elizabeth Cartwright, one of Benson's friends, told KXAN's sister station WMAQ in Chicago that she was on Benson's boat when he was taken onto the Lower Colorado River Authority's boat.
She also said she thinks authorities were out of line.
"You could hear in his voice pain, like I thought he was crying, I thought he was getting beaten up," Cartwright said.
Cartwright said LCRA officers have targeted Benson before.
"I think they know his boat, and we always get stopped," Cartwright said.
Meanwhile, LCRA spokeswoman Krista Umscheid said the agency's officers followed protocol.
Texas' Code of Criminal Procedure lists 32 different types of specialized police officers, in addition to municipal police and sheriffs. Indeed, Texas has more than 2,500 separate law enforcement agencies registered with the state, many of them not directly affiliated with a municipal PD or Sheriff. (For more background see this written testimony.)
As a rule, higher quality officers go into better paying municipal PDs, county sheriffs departments, or perhaps into federal employ. As a result, often the quality of officers in these peripheral agencies is quite low (and with commensurate pay and training). Even more problematic, there's just not enough high-quality supervisory talent to go around for all these little agencies.
If I were Benson I'd be searching for a top-notch plaintiff's lawyer as well as a criminal defense attorney. I think he's still got a future in the NFL - hell, I'd like to see the Dallas Cowboys pick him up, truth be told; football-wise, he's a stud running back who just wound up injured and in the wrong system. But if his pigskin career turns out to be a bust, perhaps he can make a pretty penny suing LCRA, which has pretty darn deep pockets.
RELATED: A good column on the topic from a San Antonio sportswriter on BlackAthlete.com.