LINCOLN — The conviction of former Husker cornerback Alfonzo Dennard highlights the chaos police face outside Lincoln’s downtown bars at closing time.
That’s the message to be sent, Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly said Wednesday, after a jury convicted Dennard of assaulting a police officer.
Kelly said the assault involving Dennard last April was one of 142 reported within a one-block radius of 14th and O Streets during 2012. There are more than a dozen bars in that area.
“It shows what a difficulty it is for police to manage that situation day to day, to keep everyone else safe ... and to keep themselves safe,” he said.
After deliberating about six hours Tuesday and Wednesday, a Lancaster County District Court jury found Dennard, 23, guilty of third-degree assault of an officer and resisting arrest in the April 21 incident, which occurred in downtown Lincoln’s bar district after 2 a.m. closing time.
The assault charge is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
District Judge Stephanie Stacy scheduled Dennard’s sentencing for April 11.
Kelly said his office would not recommend a specific sentence for Dennard. However, he said typical sentences in similar cases range from probation to up to 180 days in jail.
The incident occurred a week before the NFL draft and probably prevented Dennard from being a second-round pick. Instead, he was chosen in the seventh round by the New England Patriots, but he worked his way into the starting lineup for the playoff team.
Following the verdict, Dennard’s attorney said he and his client were “obviously disappointed” that the jury found Dennard guilty of assaulting an officer. Dennard did not appear shaken by the decision but declined to speak to reporters.
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“That’s the jury verdict, and we’ll deal with it,” attorney Terry Dougherty said. “Our work is not done. We need to prepare for the sentencing hearing, to make sure there’s a sentence that is appropriate.”
In his closing arguments, Dougherty asked the jury to convict Dennard of nothing more than resisting arrest. He maintained that there was no proof that Dennard had “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly” struck Officer Benjamin Kopsa.
Testifying in his own defense last week, Dennard acknowledged that he refused to comply with Kopsa’s orders to put his hands behind his back and pushed the officer away when he tried to take his arm. He denied throwing a punch at Kopsa.
The case went to trial after discussions failed to produce a plea agreement, Kelly said.
Kelly said he wouldn’t reveal who offered what, but said “we take a pretty firm stance” when officers are assaulted.
The incident occurred after Dennard, two of his brothers and several others hit the bars together about midnight April 20. Kopsa and other officers observed Dennard arguing with a man outside a lounge. Dennard walked away after Kopsa warned him to leave or face arrest.
Kopsa said he moved in to arrest Dennard after he saw Dennard punch another man in the street. He said Dennard planted a right hook to his left jaw when Kopsa took his left arm to handcuff him. Four officers were involved in subduing Dennard.
Both sides pointed to a 17-second cellphone video as supporting their version of events. Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Matt Acton said the video showed Kopsa reeling after being hit. But Dougherty said the video revealed no actual punch.
Kelly said he viewed the video as a key part of the prosecution’s case.
“When you have something like that, that doesn’t lie, it’s extremely helpful,” he said.
Kelly said he supports installing surveillance cameras around the bars in downtown Lincoln to help maintain order and to create evidence that can be used against those who get involved in fights.
Two cameras already have been installed. Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong hopes to begin using them within the next several months.
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