Broncos' Brandon Marshall: From Taking Knee to Aiming at Black Man in Cop Clip

Update: Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall has gone from publicly protesting alleged police brutality against African Americans to pointing a pistol at a simulated black gunman in a video shared by the Denver Police Department.

What a difference a few months make.

Last September, Marshall made national headlines after he began taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to games — an action that demonstrated solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A former college teammate of Marshall's, Kaepernick said his own refusal to stand for the anthem was his way of protesting police violence and the killing of African American suspects, among other societal ills.

The backlash against Marshall included a loss of endorsements and questions about his claim that he'd been handcuffed and briefly detained by Miami police earlier that summer. As noted in our previous coverage, on view below in its entirety, he attempted to mute such criticism by reaching out to the Denver Police Department and meeting with Denver Police Chief Robert White.

Then, in early November, Marshall announced that he'd no longer kneel during the anthem for reasons he explained in this Instagram post:

For the 1st half of the season, I’ve been taking a knee for the National Anthem to raise awareness for social injustice and to start conversation about what all of us can do to make a positive change. I’m encouraged with the many productive discussions and progress that has taken place as the Denver Police department has decided to review its use of force policy. I’m proud to have joined so many of my peers throughout sports who’ve also made their own statements. Going forward, I will be standing for the National Anthem—not because everything is perfect, or because I'm changing my stance on things. But because of my hope for what we can become. Just because I am standing doesn't mean the work will end. There’s much work to be done. I’ll continue to recognize and support organizations that are stepping up as leaders and making a real difference in our community, and I will do my part to be there for those in need. One of those organizations is the Idriss Stelley Foundation, a grassroots organization in the Bay Area that offer free support to victims of police violence. I’ll be standing for them and the family of the late O’Shaine Evans—on Sunday night in addition to making a donation from my Tackle Change program to further the meaningful work of this group. I really appreciate the support from my family, teammates, coaches and fans. I’m grateful for those who have taken the time to hear me out. I’m excited for what all of us can accomplish when we truly work together.

A photo posted by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshh54) on

Since then, Marshall's relationship with the Denver Police Department has clearly continued, as witnessed by a video posted yesterday on the DPD Facebook page under the headline "SUNDAY MATINEE: BRANDON MARSHALL GOES TO THE ACADEMY."

The introduction to the video reads: "Earlier this week, our friend, Denver Broncos' Brandon M. Marshall gave our VirTra V-300 simulator a spin. Equipped with over 100 virtual scenarios, the simulator allows officers to train in rapidly-evolving, life-like situations. WATCH how Brandon did...."

In the clip, a cheerful Marshall goes through the simulator, weapon in hand — and in one sequence, he can be seen pointing it at a black man armed with a pistol. Marshall doesn't shoot, and orders the man to "put the gun down," which the simulated suspect does.

"Some of the situations these officers have to go through, with the stress levels — their life being threatened and other people's lives being threatened, the various decisions they have to make — I think it's very difficult," Marshall says in the video. "And I think this is the perfect simulation to give people insight on what really goes on."

He adds, "I don't know everything that goes on as far as police officers go. But it's a hard job."

It's too soon to know if the video will rehabilitate Marshall's image with Broncos fans who took issue with his previous protests — or if he will be accused of selling out the cause by those who agreed with his previous actions. But the contrast between last year's controversies and the new clip couldn't be sharper. See the video below, followed by our earlier reporting.

Update, September 23, 2016: On Friday, September 23, the Miami Herald obtained the incident report detailing an encounter that Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall had told the Denver Post he'd had with police in July. The report, which Miami police would not release to Westword, differs from the account Marshall gave the Post — which he said had inspired him to take a knee during the National Anthem. (More on his accusations and the backlash that ensued below.) 

Per the Herald, "According to the incident report, Marshall, who was having dinner at Bayside, was among a crowd fleeing the tourist attraction after the reported gunfire erupted just past 10 p.m. July 4. When officers directed Marshall to stop, he kept walking, the report said, then an officer grabbed Marshall’s right hand.

“'Marshall reacted by throwing his hands in the air and screaming that he didn’t do anything,' the officer wrote.

"Marshall was handcuffed. The report says he told police he got scared as they approached him and that he was on his way to his parked car. Eventually, police released him. There is no mention in the report whether police knew that Marshall played in the NFL."

Our original story:

Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall has gotten plenty of attention in these parts and nationally for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to highlight racial inequality, social injustice and fatal police shootings — a move taken in solidarity with his former University of Nevada teammate, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

But the original backlash against Marshall's actions, which included a loss of commercial endorsements, has morphed into questions about whether a story he told in a Denver Post piece about a personal experience of alleged police misconduct is actually true.

Marshall said he was briefly taken into custody by several officers in Miami after a shooting, only to be released following a cop request to "keep this between us." But thus far, authorities in Miami say they have no record of such an incident taking place, and Marshall hasn't presented any witnesses or other evidence to support his version of events.

In some ways, the tale is morphing into a media matter, since it appears that the Post didn't fact-check Marshall's assertions before printing them on September 14; the item was published under Marshall's byline, but a subsequent correction revealed that the text was drawn from an interview conducted by sportswriter Nicki Jhabvala. Nevertheless, Post sports editor Scott Monserud is standing by the published piece.

"We have full confidence that what Brandon told us about the incident in Miami is accurate," Monserud writes via e-mail. "The Miami police are investigating and it's currently an open case. Until the investigation is done, we won't comment further."

Note that several hours after Westword contacted Monserud on this subject, the Post published a brief article by Jhabvala acknowledging that a Miami police investigation into Marshall's claims is underway. At this writing, it is the most-viewed item on the Post's website.

Monserud's confidence in Marshall's veracity isn't universally shared. KNUS radio host Peter Boyles, who's been looking into the Miami story all week (Fox31's Julie Hayden quickly followed), has spent a great deal of time on the air in recent days declaring unequivocally that the whole thing is fiction. And uncertainty about what did or didn't happen impacts Marshall's credibility as a representative of the burgeoning protest movement at a time when there's division aplenty over the appropriateness of national anthem kneel-downs and other demonstrations by him, Kaepernick and a growing number of athletes across the sports spectrum.

After the first knee-taking, Marshall agreed to meet with Denver Police Chief Robert White — and publicly, both men have given the session a positive spin. Here's a photo of the pair and a description as shared by Marshall on his Instagram account:

On Thursday, Sept. 8, I took a knee for the National Anthem to take a stand against social injustice. My intent was not to offend anyone but rather to simply raise awareness and create some dialogue toward affecting positive change in our communities. In the last week, I’ve had a lot of productive conversations with people I respect, including Chief White of the Denver Police Department. I really appreciate all of them taking the time to listen to me and offer some insight and feedback on ways we can all make a difference. I’ve also had a lot of time to personally reflect on important issues such as race and gender equality, the treatment of our military veterans, our relationship with law enforcement, educational opportunities for our youth, and many more. I recognize and applaud the significant progress that has been made in these areas made possible only through the hard work of so many dedicated leaders. But, it’s clear there is so much more work to be done by all of us. Together, we all need to Stand Up for change. This starts with me. My work with the Rose Andom Center to stop domestic violence is fulfilling and close to my heart. But I need to do more. I plan to be involved with several other organizations that benefit the Denver community and others through the services, awareness and funds they provide for these critical social issues. And I will donate 300 dollars for every tackle I make this season to those programs. You can track these contributions on social media through #TackleChange. I’m truly grateful for the support I’ve received from so many people, especially my teammates. I look forward to preparing with them and focusing on an important game Sunday against the Colts.

A photo posted by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshh54) on

Prior to this meeting, Marshall used Instagram on a number of occasions in an attempt to explain his motivations, as in this statement....

...and he even exhibited a sense of humor about the negative publicity landing on him by way of a photo that merged his body with the ubiquitous Crying Jordan Face:

They got me lol

A photo posted by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshh54) on

Nearly a week after the White summit, the first Post article citing the Miami incident appeared under the clunky headline "Brandon Marshall: We started the conversation. But action speaks loudest." Serving as its centerpiece was the following narrative:
There has been a lot of negativity, and I expected that, but I try to not read into it too much. A lot of the backlash is a diversion from the real issue, something I was reminded of firsthand this summer.

I was in Miami with three others at a restaurant and there was a shooting. Everybody ducked under the table out of fear, and a cop came in and told us it was fine, that it was just fireworks. We knew that wasn’t the truth.

We began to leave the only way we knew, but there was a lady in regular street clothes directing traffic, telling us, “Go this way, go this way!” At a serious, scary moment a lady I didn’t know was telling me which way to go, and I didn’t trust it.

We went our own way, and she yelled to the cops, “Stop him! Get him!” When I turned around, about five officers rushed toward me to take me down. They tried to take me down up top, then they tried to grab my legs. One of the cops pointed a Taser at my chest. They handcuffed me and I heard one say, “Take him in for resisting.”

I was in the back of the police car headed to the station when one of the officers radioes in and said, “Bring him back.” They told me, “Look, we’re not going to take you in as long as you keep this between us.”
The first suggestions that Marshall's account may be dubious arose out of the right-wing blogosphere by way of a September 15 jeremiad by Bob Owens at Owens wrote: "Marshall’s account of his ‘traumatic incident’ is precisely the kind of story we would expect to hear from someone looking to fabricate an account, but who lacks the knowledge of law enforcement techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTPs). Like 'stolen valor' claims made by those who have never been in combat telling stories of being a military hero, Marshall’s account of being a victim of police violence after a shooting stinks to high heaven to anyone with any rudimentary knowledge of how law enforcement actually operates."

Attempts to confirm what happened since then have been complicated by the lack of details in the Post report and Marshall's own silence on the topic since the original piece. (The Denver Broncos also say they have no information about the case and haven't opened an investigation.) But earlier this week, a Marshall spokesman told Fox31 reporter Hayden that the incident took place on July 4 at Bayside Marketplace, which locals describe as a tourist-friendly outdoor mall next to American Airlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat.

"Someone Fired a Gun at Bayside's Fourth of July Party, and Everyone Panicked," a story by Tim Elfrink in Miami New Times, our partner paper, was published the next day, describing a chaotic scene marked by widespread frenzy that makes perfect sense given that fewer than three weeks had passed since a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, took 49 lives.

"Last night, someone fired a gun outside Bayside Marketplace, where thousands of people were partying, and it damn well nearly set off a panic," Frink wrote. "The gunshots rang out sometime in the hour after fireworks ended, around 10 p.m. — just as a booming thunderstorm was rolling off the bay into downtown. Hordes of partygoers scrambled to get away as police swooped in."

Frink went on to quote a Reddit user known as Pistoleros: "This is like out of a movie. Everyone started running and yelling. People were jumping in the ocean calling for their kids and family members."

The Miami Police Department offered up three tweets about the incident:

As for Marshall, the Miami Police Department has no record of him being detained or anything like what he described taking place. But getting information beyond that is tricky, because according to public-information officer Frederica Burden, "It's an open investigation in our department right now." She says "the investigation is into whether something happened, and if it happened, what it was and how we're going to handle it from there."

Could the officers in question have been from another agency? It's at least possible, since "there are 32 police departments in Miami," says Detective Robin Pinkard, PIO for the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Pinkard adds, "We do not have any reports or arrest forms or allegations involving [Marshall], but I did reach out to the newspaper that published the story and asked for additional information, to see if we could validate the concern." She notes that contact was made with Post sports editor Monserud on September 20, and "he said they'd try to get more details for me." As of midday on September 22, Monserud hadn't reached out.

Meanwhile, John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, suggests that many people within the Miami law enforcement community doubt the validity of Marshall's story. Even if no police report about Marshall was filed, Rivera says some kind of record would exist — radio transmissions, at least. (The use of body cameras in the Miami department is in its nascent stage, he notes, and dash cams aren't mandated.) In Rivera's words, "They're not going to show up with five officers without having some sort of communications with one another about whether they need additional officers — and if you put someone in the car, you have to get on the radio and announce that you're going to transfer someone."

With that in mind, Westword managing editor Ana Campbell analyzed Miami police radio traffic from the evening of July 4 as found on the website Broadcastify and found no recordings that substantiated Marshall's report. That includes any use of the Marshall-mentioned radio phrase "Bring him back" or anything like it.

This is hardly the final word on the subject. The people with Marshall at the restaurant or other eyewitnesses could come forward, and there's always the prospect of thus-far-unknown surveillance footage or cell-phone video coming to the surface. The Dade County PBA's Rivera isn't holding his breath, though.

"We constantly hear stories about false allegations against police officers," he acknowledges. "Unfortunately, that's the norm, and after a while, you sort of get numb to it."

One more thing. Marshall tweeted several times on July 4, with his last message of the day coming at 11:23 p.m.:

Do these three words allude to the Bayside incident? Or are they totally unrelated? These questions are currently unanswered — along with plenty of other things about this story.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts