Report: Benson hires new attorney; witness says arrest 'ludicrous'

Updated: May 9, 2008, 11:44 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Chicago Bears running back Cedric Benson has hired a prominent defense attorney to help him fight charges of drunken boating and resisting arrest in Texas.

"I do not believe that Cedric was intoxicated when his boat was boarded by the [Lower Colorado River Authority] officers for a safety inspection," Benson's new lawyer, Sam Bassett, said Thursday in an e-mail, the Chicago Tribune reported. "I also am concerned that the force used by the LCRA officers, particularly the use of pepper spray, was not necessary under the circumstances."

Benson was arrested Saturday after LCRA officers patrolling Lake Travis, near Austin, stopped Benson's boat for a safety check.

According to the police report, Benson had bloodshot eyes, a "strong" alcohol odor and slurred speech when his boat was stopped. Benson has denied he was intoxicated or that he resisted law enforcement and will fight the charges against him.

On Thursday, another witness to the arrest supported claims by Benson and a friend that Benson was mistreated by police.

Tony Patch, who was not a passenger on Benson's boat, told WXAN-TV in Austin that he saw LCRA police "manhandling" Benson.

"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," Patch said, according to the report.

"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, according to the report. "It was uncalled for, it was ludicrous, no point for it."

Earlier this week, Elizabeth Cartwright, a passenger on Benson's boat, said she did not believe Benson was intoxicated when he was arrested and that he did not resist officers, according to the Tribune. Cartwright, a University of Texas student and friend from Benson's days at Texas, called her father and asked him to dial 911.

Cartwright said that she had been a passenger on Benson's boat about six times this year -- and that every time, LCRA officers had approached Benson's boat for a random safety check, according to the report. Earlier this week, LCRA officials said they had stepped up patrols in the area where Benson's boat was stopped in response to a recent increase in fatal boating accidents involving alcohol.

According to the police report, Sgt. Leonard Snyder, who sprayed and arrested Benson, said he believed Benson was intoxicated because he was "combative," "cocky," "insulting" and used "profanity," but at other times was "crying" and "cooperative."

After failing sobriety tests applied by Snyder, who works with the Lower Colorado River Authority, Snyder wrote that Benson refused to come ashore for additional tests and "stood up from the position where I had him seated and suggested I could not tell him what to do."

Bassett gained national attention in his defense of Colton Pitonyak, who was convicted last year in the gruesome murder of University of Texas student Jennifer Cave.

"There is a lot of work left to be done, and I am not privy to all information regarding the case at this juncture," Bassett said, according to the Tribune. "Cedric is interested in focusing on football right now, and we will work hard for him while he prepares for the season."

Benson is in Chicago and has not commented since Sunday night, when he said he was innocent and had been mistreated by police. Benson faces a May 19 court date -- the first day of Bears "organized team activities" -- but he does not have to be present in court.

Benson had previously been represented in the case by Brian Carney, a friend and supporter from Benson's home town of Midland, Texas. Midland is about 300 miles from Austin.

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