Three months to the day after he stood in a Lincoln, Neb., courtroom and was sentenced to jail and placed on probation for a felony conviction, Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard found himself in yet another criminal matter near his former college campus.
Dennard was arrested early Thursday morning in Lincoln and charged with driving under the influence, an action that could impact his earlier conviction if it’s determined he has violated his probation. On April 11, Dennard was sentenced to 30 days in jail for assaulting a Lincoln police officer, stemming from a 2012 altercation. He is scheduled to serve that time after the upcoming season, in March.
According to the Lincoln Police Department, the 23-year-old was driving a red Honda Accord that was observed by a police officer to be straddling lane lines. After stopping the vehicle, the police report states, Dennard “emitted an odor of alcohol and displayed signs of impairment.”
Following a series of field sobriety tests, Dennard was brought in for a breathalyzer test, which he refused to provide, according to police. He was cited for DUI and released — no mug shot was taken — and was given a court date of Aug. 12, which is three days after the Patriots’ preseason opener at Philadelphia.
Whether Dennard participates in that game, or any game this season, remains to be seen. It would seem, based on a DUI arrest while he was serving probation for a felony conviction of assaulting a police officer, that Dennard has opened himself up for possible disciplinary action by either the Patriots, the NFL, or the Nebraska legal system.
Joe Kelly, the Lancaster County Attorney whose office prosecuted Dennard in the assault case, said his office will make the decision on whether to file a motion to revoke probation, but only if the county’s probation department first informs them that a probation violation may have occurred.
“Safe assumption,” said Gene Cotter, Chief Probation Officer for Lancaster County Adult Probation.
If Kelly’s office files the motion asking for probation to be revoked, hearings are held and a judge — almost always the judge who handed down the initial sentence — determines what comes next, including possibly a new sentence for the original conviction.
“At that point, you can be sentenced to anything that you could have been sentenced originally,” Kelly said. “In this case, that’s up to five years in prison.”
It’s the latest criminal black eye for the Patriots in a tumultuous offseason. In addition to Dennard’s earlier conviction and sentencing, the team released Aaron Hernandez on June 26, hours after the tight end was arrested, and before he was even arraigned on first-degree murder charges in the death of Odin Lloyd.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said team owner Robert Kraft was not in the office on Thursday, and a request to speak with him was unsuccessful. When Kraft met with the media on Monday and spoke about Hernandez, he said, “Everything we don’t want is happening.”
In response to Dennard’s latest arrest, the Patriots did issue a statement.
“The New England Patriots are extremely disappointed to learn of Alfonzo Dennard’s arrest,” the statement read. “We take this matter very seriously and are working to get more information on the incident.”
In a brief statement he made to the court prior to the April 11 sentencing in Lincoln, Dennard said, according to published reports, that he’d “never do anything wrong” if he received probation in the assault case. Instead, Lancaster County Court Judge Stephanie Stacy sentenced Dennard to 30 days in jail, plus two years probation and 100 hours of law enforcement-related community service.
According to Cotter, there were 15 conditions listed under Dennard’s probation. Consuming alcohol was not one of them.
“The No. 1 condition in pretty much every single probation order says, ‘Do not violate the law,’ ” Cotter said. “The first condition in his order of probation is, ‘Shall not violate any laws, and shall refrain from disorderly conduct or acts injurious to others.’ ”
Stacy set March 1, 2014, as the date Dennard is to begin his 30-day sentence, three days of which have already been served. She selected a very football-friendly time frame for Dennard, since it comes after the season. But Stacy offered a stern warning to Dennard while handing it down.
“There are a lot of people who are watching you — young athletes who will model your behavior, your attitudes, particularly about law enforcement,” she said. “I hope this order of probation gives you an opportunity to set a positive example and positively influence people. I encourage you to take advantage of that.”
Dennard’s arrest on the assault charge came days before the NFL draft, one of the main reasons he slipped to the seventh round. He appeared in 12 games last season (including the playoffs), starting nine, and was credited with 40 tackles and one forced fumble. He intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown.
Phone messages left for Terry Dougherty, an attorney in Lincoln who handled Dennard’s assault case, and also for Brian Murphy, Dennard’s agent at Athletes First, were not returned.
Dumping Hernandez comes at a financial cost for the Patriots, since he’ll carry a $2.5 million salary cap hit for the upcoming season, and a $7.5 million hit in 2014. Dennard, still working off his rookie contract, has a base salary of $480,000 this season, and would count just $43,386 toward the cap if the Patriots were to release him.
The Patriots report to training camp on July 25. The team’s first public practice comes the next day.