LINCOLN, Neb. — A Nebraska judge has sentenced Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to 30 days in jail and 24 months of probation for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest in April 2012.
His jail sentence will begin March 1, 2014, after the 2013 NFL season. As part of his sentencing, he will also have to do 100 hours of community service, which will have to be “law-enforcement related.” And he will need permission to travel for reasons outside of work.
When Dennard reports to jail in 2014, he will get credit for three days already served.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini wrote letters on Dennard’s behalf for judge Stephanie Stacy to consider.
When asked, Dennard agreed with the terms of his punishment. He apologized to his coaches, family, and fans. And he also apologized to the police officer he assaulted, Ben Kopsa. His defense attorney, Terry Dougherty, asked if he can file for Dennard’s jail term to be suspended or eliminated if he follows all the terms and conditions leading up to March 1, 2014.
The former University of Nebraska standout was arrested in the early-morning hours on April 21, 2012, just days before the NFL draft.
After celebrating with friends at some of Lincoln’s bars, Dennard found himself facing charges of assault against a police officer, a Class 3-A felony in Nebraska, misdemeanor resisting arrest, first offense, and misdemeanor assault.
When the weeklong trial ended in February, Dennard was found guilty on the felony assault and resisting arrest charges.
“Glad he got probation, that was the appropriate sentence,” said Dougherty. “Disappointed for [him to get] jail time.
“You’ve got a guy with a spotless criminal record and what I guess I’d have to characterize as not a serious injury to the police officer and is a very low risk for being a repeat offender,” Dougherty said. “That strikes me as a guy that you can give probation to without any jail time. That’s fine. What he has to do now is abide by the terms of the probation and the reason I asked the question about whether we can go back in March and ask her to consider an additional suspension of the sentence and perhaps not ever actually have him serve the 30 days was to let the judge know that I think he’s going to do fine and she ought to take that into consideration.”
Dennard politely declined to comment.
The felony conviction carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a $10,000 fine, though there is no minimum penalty; there was also no minimum punishment for the resisting arrest charge, which carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
Dennard had an altercation with college student Ben Samani as the two crossed the street in opposite directions, an incident that officer Kopsa witnessed.
Kopsa approached Dennard, and Dennard was accused of hitting Kopsa during their interaction. A 17-second video taken by an onlooker was used as evidence during the trial; Lancaster County prosecutors told jurors that it was clear from the video that Dennard had been the aggressor and punched Kopsa.
Dougherty argued that it was impossible to tell from the video whether Dennard had hit the officer, in part because it was so dark and also because the video was partially obscured by onlookers. On Thursday, he told judge Stacy that Dennard had already paid a “fine” of at least $500,000 because his draft stock fell as a result of the arrest. Dougherty went on to say Dennard has never done anything to embarrass himself or his family except for the five minutes that incident took.
When Dennard took the stand in February, he admitted to resisting arrest and also to hitting Samani in the chest, but insisted that he did not intentionally hit Kopsa.
But the jury disagreed and the guilty verdict was handed down.
Projected as a mid-round pick, New England selected Dennard in the seventh round, and his total rookie contract as a seventh-rounder is about $1 million less than it would have been had he been chosen in the fourth round.
There is also the question of whether the NFL will punish Dennard under its personal conduct policy. Since he was not a league employee at the time of his arrest, it stands to reason that he should not be; should commissioner Roger Goodell try to suspend Dennard, the NFL Players Association would fight it on those grounds.
With any length of time, there will be questions about Dennard’s physical condition once he is released.
Dennard started seven of the Patriots’ final 10 regular-season games and both playoff games. He recorded three interceptions, including an 87-yard return for a touchdown against the Colts Nov. 18.