Sports Former NFL player Michael Bush recounts tense encounter with DEA agents: 'It could have gone wrong'
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Former NFL running back Michael Bush was alarmed and bewildered in late September when Drug Enforcement Administration agents cornered him as he was walking his dogs, but he said he knew what to do.
He's one of the most recognizable athletes of the past 20 years to come out of the city of Louisville, but he'd been in similar situations before.
Before the fame with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, before the unforgettable years at the University of Louisville and before he played inas Male's star quarterback, Bush said he was confronted by police who were looking for someone else during his childhood one day on his way to the field at 10th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, in the West End.
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Bush was upset, but he complied with the officers that time years ago, he said this week in an interview with The Courier Journal, just like he complied when several unmarked DEA vehicles roll up alongside him last month.
"Those are just things that we go through as Black men, being where we’re from — but again, it’s how you handle that situation at the end of the day," Bush said. "Answer questions, and you get to go home. You listen, comply, do what you’ve got to do — just to get home."
Bush is 6-foot-1 and built like a former professional athlete. There aren't many people who look like him in his Louisville neighborhood, he said. But that didn't help him on Sept. 30 when he was confronted by the DEA.
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It was around 1 p.m., Bush said, when he decided to take his dogs for a walk before a 2:30 p.m. business meeting. He'd walked around the block and down an alley near his home when all of the sudden, he said, three cars rolled up.
"Unmarked police," Bush said this week, recounting the incident. "They start to grabbing and reaching — you know, ‘Hands behind your back’ — and I’m like, ‘Nah, you all got the wrong dude today. This ain’t going down this way.’
"I’m like ‘What, did somebody call you all?’ They said ‘No, you fit the description.’ Of who? Of what? There’s nobody in this area that looks like me. There’s nobody in this area that’s built like me."
Bush was near his Louisville home. He hadn't brought along an ID for what was supposed to be a quick stroll around the block.
"I was like, 'You need to Google this name,'" he said. "'Do whatever you all need to do. Talk to somebody, because it ain’t me.’"
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The people who'd confronted him weren't with Louisville Metro Police, Bush said he later learned. They were with the DEA. And after their brief encounter, they left without identifying themselves.
Bush was irate but relieved, he said — "It could have gone wrong." And he got answers when he saw the same cars down the street after he'd returned home.
A man saw Bush's wife outside with the family's dogs, he said, and called her over, asking her to bring out the man they'd confronted earlier in the day. They apologized over the incident, Bush said, and told him that he looked like a drug suspect they'd been seeking. Bush said he told them they should have been more sure about who they were approaching and asked why a supposed criminal would be out walking a couple of dogs through a neighborhood in the middle of the afternoon.
Still, Bush listened to what they had to say. The DEA officials said the man they were looking for carries a gun and had promised he wouldn't go down without a fight.
"I’m torn between two sides," Bush said this week. "I understand the officers acting how they had to act because they have to get home to see their families. And I understand how I felt because at the same time, the biggest thing is I complied with them — you’ve got to do what you do also to get home. So it’s a 50-50 thing, right?"
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The DEA agents who confronted Bush had the wrong man that afternoon, agency spokesman Kevin McWilliams said in a statement. They apologized, he said, and Bush was willing to listen.
"Our agents are expected to be professional and respectful during any operation or investigation, while also ensuring the safety of the public, as well as themselves," McWilliams' statement said. "Our understanding is that this unfortunate case of mistaken identity was handled appropriately; the agents went to great lengths to explain their actions and genuinely apologize, and that both Mr. Bush and the agents walked away from their encounter without further incident or concerns. That’s what we strive for."
Bush became a household name as a star quarterback for Male High School in Louisville at the turn of the century, famously dueling with Brian Brohm and Trinity in the iconic 2002 Kentucky state championship game. He endeared himself to the community further by playing four seasons at the University of Louisville before spending the next six years in the NFL.
Bush said that as his conversation with the DEA officials was winding down, he told them they were too combative. He still would have complied if they had explained the situation and asked for his ID — everything escalated, he said, when they took an aggressive approach.
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But either way, Bush continued, he had every intention to follow their directions. Right or wrong, if you do what you're told, "You go home and you live to see another day."
"All this ‘I know my rights?’ Man, do your rights after the fact if they get you," Bush said. "Get their name, their information, and all that after the fact. Because it could have gone wrong."
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal:
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