LINCOLN — On the witness stand Friday, former Husker Alfonzo Dennard admitted hitting another man on the streets of downtown Lincoln last April and resisting arrest.
But he denied punching the police officer who arrested him.
Dennard, 23, has been on trial since Monday in Lancaster County District Court on a felony charge of assaulting an officer, as well as for misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest. He testified in his own defense Friday.
The defense rested after Dennard’s testimony. His case is expected to go to the jury after closing arguments Tuesday, the first day of business after Presidents Day.
There had been some discussion about whether Nebraska coach Bo Pelini would testify on behalf of his former defensive back, who plays now for the New England Patriots. Pelini was subpoenaed by defense attorney Terry Dougherty and interviewed by prosecutors.
Pelini entered the courtroom shortly before 6 p.m. Friday but did not take the stand. He spoke briefly with Dougherty and shook Dennard’s hand before leaving without answering questions from reporters. Dougherty declined to discuss the matter.
Dennard’s testimony came after his twin brother, Lorenzo Dennard, testified on his brother’s behalf. Lorenzo and a Lincoln woman he dates, Natalie Nevels, said they were with Alfonzo Dennard that night. They said they did not see him hit Lincoln police officer Benjamin Kopsa.
Kopsa testified earlier this week that he went to arrest Dennard after seeing him punch another man. He said Dennard eluded his efforts to grab his arms to handcuff him and eventually hit the officer in the left jaw with a right hook.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it was an 8,” he said of the punch.
Dennard testified that he did not want to be arrested and that he didn’t understand why the officer was arresting him when the other man hit him first.
“I kept backing away from him. I kept telling him, ‘No, I’m not getting arrested,” Dennard said. “Basically, he was trying to grab my arm.”
Dennard said the incident happened after he and a group of friends traveled downtown near midnight April 20 to hang out in the bars for a while.
At the time, both Dennard twins were living in Lincoln and they were being visited by another brother and a nephew from Georgia. Alfonzo Dennard was awaiting the NFL draft the following week.
Upon cross examination by deputy Lancaster County Attorney Matt Acton, Dennard acknowledged that his status in the draft was on his mind.
“You don’t want to screw up the great things that might happen,” Acton said. “Yet you put yourself in a situation where people drink and people fight. ... You knew that an arrest could affect your draft status, and you knew it was important to tell the officers why you didn’t think you’d done anything wrong.”
Dennard said he had hit the first man in the chest after the man, staggering because he had too much to drink, hit him with his shoulder as the two met in a crosswalk at 14th and O Streets in downtown Lincoln.
He didn’t recall whether he hit the man with a closed fist or open palm, but “probably” a fist.
He said he was walking away from the man when someone grabbed him from behind.
“I turned around and I saw it was a police officer,” he said. “He said, ‘You’re under arrest.’ ... I said, ‘No, I’m going to go home.’ He kept trying to grab my arm. I kept pulling it away.”
Dennard said he made a quarter turn to try to slip from the officer’s grasp. He said he did not think he hit the officer.
Under questioning by defense attorney Dougherty, Dennard said he never threw a punch at Kopsa, nor did he strike him in the face with a closed fist.
Under Acton’s cross-examination, however, Dennard said it was possible he hit Kopsa with his right arm. But he maintained that he did not do so on purpose.
“I had no idea I hit the officer with my right fist,” Dennard said.
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