LINCOLN — Alfonzo Dennard tearfully told police last April that he was no criminal, and that he would not deliberately hit a police officer.
“I’ve never been in this situation in my life,” he said during a recorded jailhouse interview played Tuesday at his trial. “I didn’t hurt you, I didn’t punch you in the face on purpose. You ran up on me so fast.
“I pushed you, that’s all that happened.”
The former Husker cornerback who now plays for the New England Patriots, is on trial in Lancaster County District Court for an April 21, 2012, incident shortly after closing time in Lincoln’s downtown bar district.
The 23-year-old is alleged to have punched a man who bumped into him on the street, and then to have punched the police officer trying to arrest him afterward. He faces a felony charge for assaulting an officer and two misdemeanor charges — third-degree assault and resisting arrest.
If convicted of all three offenses, Dennard could face up to seven years in prison and a $12,000 fine. The incident, which occurred less than a week before the NFL draft, has already cost him. Though he was expected to be drafted near the second round, he fell to the Patriots in the seventh.
Earlier Tuesday, Lincoln police officer Benjamin Kopsa testified that Dennard hit him with a right hook to the jaw when he tried to arrest him for assaulting another man, Benjamin Samani, on the street corner.
Prosecutor Matt Acton asked Kopsa to describe what Dennard’s punch felt like.
“It felt like a very hard object hitting me in the jaw,” he said.
In his recorded statement, Dennard apologized to Kopsa but repeatedly denied throwing a punch.
He also asked for his cellphone so he could look up his agent’s name.
“I’m in jail, this (is) crazy, man,” he said.
Kopsa was the prosecution’s first witness. He testified that he got more than he bargained for when he decided to arrest Dennard after he saw him punch Samani.
He said Dennard tried to elude him, saying, “I’m good. I’m good. I’m going home.”
Kopsa said he told Dennard four or five times that he was under arrest and to put his arms behind his back. Three times, he grabbed Dennard’s right arm to try to handcuff him. On the first two attempts, 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 help before turning back to Dennard, grabbing his left arm. Dennard pulled his arm away and hit Kopsa, the officer said.
Kopsa said he staggered backward, and it took him a half-second to realize he’d been hit. Another officer tackled Dennard to the ground.
At the time, Kopsa was a uniformed member of a four-officer bicycle team that helped patrol the 2 a.m. bar closing scene, when hundreds of mostly college-age people swarm out of at least a dozen bars within a two-block area of downtown Lincoln. It’s an often unruly scene, he said.
Kopsa recognized Dennard as a former Husker. Though he previously had seen Dennard around the bars, Kopsa said he’d never caused any trouble.
Kopsa said he first noticed the football player exchanging words with another man outside a sandwich shop. Dennard looked angry and seemed to be challenging the man to fight, he said.
After Dennard made a boxer’s feinting motion, fists cocked, toward the man, Kopsa told Dennard to go home or he would be arrested.
As Dennard walked away, Kopsa glanced from one man to the other to make sure neither circled back to attack the other. He next saw Dennard punch a younger white man near the street corner.
The police officer said he didn’t see what led up to that punch.
In his recorded statement, Dennard said the other man pushed him for no reason.
“I pushed him back and you all came rushing and you attacked me,” he said. “I did not throw a punch at you, I pushed you back. I didn’t know who was coming at me. My first instinct was to keep everybody back.”
Kopsa responded that Dennard knew he was a police officer.
“When an officer tells you to put your hands behind your back, what do you do? You put your hands behind your back,” he told Dennard. “You see I’m wearing a uniform, I’ve got the badge. You know I’m not going to hurt you. We’ve got to get things sorted out.”
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