LINCOLN — A Lincoln police officer said he got more than he bargained for last April when he decided to arrest Alfonzo Dennard after he saw the former Husker cornerback punch a man on a Lincoln street after bar closing.
Officer Benjamin Kopsa was the prosecution's first witness in Dennard's trial in Lancaster County District Court. Dennard, 23, faces a felony charge of third-degree assault on an officer and two misdemeanors in the April 21, 2012, incident. If convicted of all three charges, Dennard, who plays now for the New England Patriots, faces a maximum jail term of seven years, plus up to $12,000 in fines.
Kopsa said Dennard tried to elude him after he rushed up to arrest him. Dennard backed away and said "I'm good, I'm good. I'm going home." Kopsa said he told Dennard four or five times he was under arrest and to put his arms behind his back. Three times, he grabbed Dennard's right arm to try to cuff him. On the first two tries, Dennard pulled his arm away. On the third try, Dennard used both hands to swat Kopsa's hands away.
"I realized I had my hands full and there was nobody else with me." Kopsa said he yelled for another officer to help him before turning back to Dennard and grabbing his left arm. Dennard pulled his arm away and hit the officer in his jaw with a right hook, he said.
"Did it hurt?" asked prosecutor Matt Acton.
"Yes," replied Kopsa.
"On a scale of one to 10, it felt like an eight," he said.
Kopsa said he wasn't expecting to get hit and it took him a half second to realize what had happened. He was trying to decide what to do next when another officer tackled Dennard to the ground.
At the time, Kopsa was part of a four-officer bicycle team who helped monitor the 2 a.m. bar closing scene in Lincoln, when hundreds of mostly college-age people swarm out of the downtown bars.
"Most of them have been partaking (of) alcohol," he said. "We see a lot of disturbances and fights, people falling over drunk, people urinating in public, people vomiting. A lot of people need us there to prevent something from happening or to take them into protective custody."
He said the goal is to maintain order. Officers will arrest people when necessary, but they would rather issue citations and release people.
Kopsa said he recognized Dennard as a former Husker and also knew that he was about to go through the NFL draft.
Although he had previously seen the football player around Lincoln's downtown bars, Kopsa said he'd never met Dennard before, never had any problems with him and had no reason to target him.
Kopsa estimated Dennard at 5-feet-10, 225 pounds and muscular, while he stands just under 6 feet and weighs 195.
Acton asked Kopsa to describe what Dennard's punch felt like.
"Like a very hard object hitting me in the jaw," he said.
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