Officer says former Husker punched him in the face

2013-02-13T02:00:00Z 2013-02-20T12:23:03Z Officer says former Husker punched him in the faceBy LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A 17-second cellphone video caught the chaos of what happened at bar break April 21 in the middle of 14th Street near O Street.

But whether jurors could make out former Husker and current New England Patriots player Alfonzo Dennard throwing a punch at a Lincoln police officer remained unclear to those watching from the gallery Tuesday.

The distinction could be an important one in a case in which Dennard maintains he pushed the officer away believing he was being attacked from behind.

That's not how Lincoln Officer Ben Kopsa described it on the stand during the first day of testimony at Dennard's trial on charges of assault on an officer, misdemeanor assault of another man and resisting arrest.

Kopsa said they had been looking at each other face-to-face when Dennard threw a hook at him, and he felt the punch.

"It hurt," he said, like a hard object hitting him right in the jaw.

Kopsa said it jarred him backward, the few steps visible on the video, took a half second to register and left him with blood on the back of his ear.

He rated the pain an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Kopsa said about 20 seconds earlier he had ordered Dennard to leave O Street after he spotted him in a confrontation with a heavy-set man in front of the Hour Lounge.

Three friends pulled him back, and Dennard started to walk away.

But as Kopsa looked down the street, he said, he saw Dennard punch another man in the face, and he jogged over to arrest him.

"I get over to where Mr. Dennard is standing and I tell him that he's under arrest, and he's facing me, looking at me, and he says, 'I'm good,'" the officer said.

He said he told him again and again to put his hands behind his back. But Dennard said he was going home and started backing away into the street.

That's when Kopsa tried to grab Dennard's right arm, and Dennard pulled away, he said. When he tried again, Dennard swatted his hands down. He tried again.

"And then he punched me in the face with his right fist," Kopsa said.

Almost immediately another officer came up and tackled Dennard to the ground.

Earlier in the day, in opening statements, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Chris Turner said Dennard had been given an opportunity to just go home.

"However, instead of just going home, instead of just walking away from trouble, Mr. Dennard initiated it," he said.

Dennard's attorney, Terry Dougherty, said that's not how it happened.

By the end of trial, he said, Dennard will admit he resisted arrest that night, but he didn't assault anyone.

The defense attorney said Dennard was doing what Kopsa had asked, walking away from a confrontation, when Ben Samani, a man in the crowd crossing 14th Street, ran into Dennard.

He said the two bumped into each other, then pushed each other. Then someone else in the crowd -- not Dennard -- hit Samani in the face, Dougherty said.

The whole thing didn't amount to anything but pushing and shoving, he said, until Kopsa came up behind Dennard and grabbed him.

He said Dennard didn't know it was an officer and reacted by raising his arm and elbow and swinging around to break free.

Up to that point, he said, Dennard had done nothing wrong.

Jurors will have to make that decision later this week. But late in the day Tuesday they heard a recording of Dennard that night in which he said he thought somebody else was behind him, attacking him.

"I feel like I didn't do anything wrong," he said.

"I pushed you, that's all that happened," Dennard said.

To which the officer said: "I know what happened when your fist hit me in the face."

Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.

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