Published Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:26 am / Updated at 1:55 pm
Lawyers differ on events that led to former Husker's arrest

LINCOLN — With the NFL draft a week away, former Husker cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was out celebrating with his brothers visiting from Georgia.

Things turned sour as that April night came to a close, with Dennard under arrest for assaulting a police officer and another bar patron, as well as for resisting arrest.

During opening arguments Tuesday at Dennard's trial, lawyers gave different accounts of events leading up to the arrest.

Deputy Lancaster County prosecutor Chris Turner said police repeatedly warned a belligerent Dennard to go home and avoid a confrontation.

“It's not worth getting into a fight downtown — you'll go to jail,” the officers warned.

Instead of going home and avoiding trouble, said Turner, “Mr. Dennard initiated it.”

But Dennard's lawyer, Terry Dougherty of Lincoln, said Dennard was upset already because others had been spoiling for a fight with him and his brothers. One family member had been punched in the face outside a bar. Dennard was headed to another bar to get the rest of his group and leave for home when another man got in his face.

That's the point when police near the scene stepped in, Dougherty said.

Complying with police, Dennard was walking away when he collided with another man as both crossed the street from opposite directions, Dougherty said.

What happened after is in dispute. Prosecutors say Dennard punched the man and then Officer Benjamin Kopsa when he moved in to arrest Dennard.

Dennard's lawyer said the collision in the street amounted to a shoving match. He said Dennard fought off the police officer because he believed he was being attacked from behind by someone else. Dougherty said Dennard is guilty of nothing more than resisting arrest.

Dennard, 23, plans to testify in his own defense during the trial, expected to continue through most of the week in Lancaster County District Court. He is charged with third-degree assault on the officer, third-degree assault on the other man and resisting arrest. If convicted of all three counts, he could face as much as seven years in prison and a $12,000 fine.

A jury of 10 women and four men was chosen Monday to decide the case. Court officials summoned an unusual number of potential jurors out of concern that Dennard's status as a high-profile athlete would jeopardize efforts to find impartial jurors.

Dougherty called it the “gorilla in the room.”

“Let's call it as we see it,” he said. “This is a case about a football player. It's a very honest occupation, but people have opinions about football players.”

Upon initial questioning, about half of the jury pool indicated they had heard about the incident through news accounts or other sources. Only three, however, indicated they knew enough to influence their decision. They were excused from serving.

No one raised their hand when prosecutor Matthew Acton asked if the potential jurors followed Dennard's athletic career. Less than a handful indicated they knew he plays for the NFL's New England Patriots.

“Follow him, how?” one man asked. “We just watched the game. We had knowledge he was on the (Husker) football team.”

Said another man: “Every once in awhile, somebody would make a big play and it would say 'Dennard' on the back of the jersey.”

A third man said that while he didn't search for information about Dennard's football play, he recognized Dennard from watching Husker games on TV and reading game stories in the Sunday newspapers.

None of the three were selected for the jury.

According to police reports, officers were monitoring “bar break” — closing time — at 2 a.m. in downtown Lincoln when Officer Phillip Tran observed Dennard arguing with another person. Kopsa tried to arrest Dennard after he allegedly punched another man. When Kopsa grabbed Dennard's left arm, Dennard allegedly punched the officer in the face with his closed right fist. Tran reported that four officers were needed to take Dennard into custody.

Dennard disputes police accounts, Dougherty said.

The attorney questioned jurors about their relationships with police, noting that “we have a case that depends so much upon the credibility of private citizens and police officers.”

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Leslie Reed    |   402-473-9581    |  

Leslie covers higher education issues and events affecting Nebraska college students and their families.



< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
< >