Bears' Benson says BWI, resisting arrest charges unfounded

Updated: May 5, 2008, 8:12 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

AUSTIN, Texas -- Chicago Bears running back Cedric Benson was charged with boating while intoxicated after failing a sobriety test and resisting arrest that required officers to use pepper spray before dragging him ashore Saturday night, according to police.

If found guilty, Benson faces up to six months in jail and $2,000 for each Class B misdemeanor. Benson is scheduled to appear in Travis County Court on May 19. In Texas, a BWI charge carries the same weight as a DWI.

The former Texas Longhorn, however, said he was not drunk and did not resist arrest.

"I was not intoxicated," Benson told the Chicago Sun-Times. "There was alcohol on the boat and others were enjoying themselves, but I wasn't drunk."

"They gave me a field sobriety test, told me to say my ABCs and told me to count from 1 to 4 up and down," Benson told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm thinking, I passed all the tests, did everything right. Then the officer told me we needed to go to land to take more tests. I politely asked him why we needed to go to land to take more tests when I took every test. Then he sprayed me with mace, on his boat.

"I'm not handcuffed. I'm not under arrest. I'm not threatening him. I'm not pushing him. I'm not touching him. And he sprays me right in my eye."

Benson was released from jail early Sunday on a $14,500 bond. He said in the year he has owned the boat, he has been questioned by lake police six times, according to the Tribune.

Benson was operating the boat with 15 family members and friends aboard when he was stopped by a Lower Colorado River Authority officer for a random safety inspection. He failed a field sobriety test on the officer's boat and was uncooperative when the officer tried to take him ashore, the authority said.

"When Benson did not pass the test, he presented himself as a threat to the officer and argued about whether or not he would be taken to land to have a follow-up field sobriety test performed on land and refused to put on a life jacket," the authority said in a statement. The officer had to use pepper spray to subdue Benson, a move the running back doesn't understand.

"Even after they pepper-sprayed me, I have no idea why they did that. I was cooperative," Benson told the Sun-Times. "I asked them several times why they did that and they didn't give me an answer."

Benson then refused to leave the officer's boat and authorities had to drag him to a car to be taken to the Travis County jail, the authority said.

Benson's account differs. He told the Tribune that he was not near his family when the police restrained him.

"Nobody saw what he did to me," Benson told the newspaper. "I started screaming for my mother to come. That's when they put me under arrest. And the officer threw a life jacket over my head.

"Once we got to land, the Travis County police grabbed me and kicked my feet from under me. So I landed on my back while I was handcuffed. They held me down and held the water hose over my face. I couldn't breathe, I'm choking, I'm begging the cops, 'Please stop. Please stop.' Then they picked me up and dragged me backward toward their car. And I'm still being polite, asking them, 'Sir, could you please allow me to walk like a man to your cop car?' They just kept dragging me on."

Chicago coach Lovie Smith said he's still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

"... any time we're talking about one of our players getting arrested, you're disappointed in it," Smith said Sunday at the end of the Bears' three-day rookie minicamp in Lake Forest, Ill.

Bears officials said general manager Jerry Angelo was out of town Sunday and unavailable to comment.

"Right now it's one-sided, and I would like to know exactly what they're basing their allegations on," Benson's lawyer, Brian Carney, told the Tribune. "It's very, very early. And we still haven't had a chance to evaluate what exactly they think that they have.

"Those allegations are untrue," Carney added. "I think it's a shame that they proceeded the way they did. I can tell you right now that we're going to resolve this. We're going to work through it. And we're going to maintain our position that this was inappropriate and that he's not guilty of any of these things. Cedric was extremely cooperative with these officers. He complied. He performed their tests that they asked him to do."

A spokesman for the NFL said the league was aware of the situation and is investigating, according to the Tribune.

Benson, who said he plans to return to Chicago on Tuesday, told the Tribune he talked to Smith on Sunday afternoon.

"He knows I'm going to take care of my business," Benson told the newspaper. "I always handle anything that I'm dealt with. He just stressed the fact that whenever anything like this comes up to call him first."

Benson told the Tribune he is about 98 percent healed from the ankle injury that ended his season in 2007.

"This [arrest] is tough to deal with because you're guilty until proven innocent," Benson told the newspaper. "My name is blasted out there like I was fighting these police officers or something. That totally was not the deal. I'm not stupid."

Benson has had legal problems before.

He was sentenced to eight days in jail in 2003 for a misdemeanor trespassing charge after forcing his way into an apartment to look for a reported stolen TV. In 2002, misdemeanor drug and alcohol charges against him were dropped.

Benson rushed for more than 5,500 yards and 64 touchdowns at the University of Texas, going for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons.

The 25-year-old has done little since the Bears took him with the fourth pick of the 2005 draft.

As a rookie he didn't beat out Thomas Jones and rushed for 272 yards in nine games. He was more effective the next season while sharing time with Jones, going for six touchdowns and 647 yards.

Last year, Benson took over as the featured back after Jones was traded. He rushed for 674 yards, four touchdowns and 3.4 yards a carry before going on injured reserve in November.

In three years with the Bears, Benson has rushed for 1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 3.8 yards a carry. He's also missed 13 games.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.