Breckenridge police officer testifies at trial about assault that left her bruised, battered
Jurors in the trial of Nathan Alexander Finnegan heard opening statements and saw the first round of witnesses take the stand on Wednesday, including testimony from Jennifer Kruse, the Breckenridge police officer who Finnegan assaulted in July last year.
Finnegan, 22, is accused of first- and second-degree assault, along with a number of other crimes stemming from an incident on July 21, 2018, when he allegedly assaulted Kruse after crashing his car on Highlands Drive near HIghway 9 in Breckenridge.
Following an hour-plus delay as jurors struggled to navigate through traffic and heavy snow, District Attorney Bruce Brown was the first to speak, offering an opening statement in which he painted a troubling picture of Finnegan choosing to get behind the wheel while inebriated on the night in question, precipitating a chain of continued erratic behavior that ended with the brutal assault of a police officer.
“He left the car disabled,” said Brown. “He walked away from the accident to avoid detection of driving under the influence. … Once Officer Kruse arrives on scene the defendant recognizes he’s now in trouble. He jumps up and starts to go toward the patrol car. He figures it’s all over and he’s going to get arrested. But Kruse is concerned he’s going to harm himself by walking into traffic, so she stops him. When she does that the defendant actually attacks her. He hits her in the face multiple times.”
Everett Pritchard, one of Finnegan’s attorneys, delivered the opening statement for the defense. Pritchard effectively told the jury that they wouldn’t be fighting many of the facts of the case, admitting that crimes had been committed — including an assault — but said that the district attorney’s office had overcharged Finnegan. He claimed that the incident didn’t meet the elements for first- or second-degree assault, questioning Finnegan’s state of mind in regard to if he showed an “extreme indifference” to the value of human life, if he actually caused serious bodily injury and whether or not he intended to do so.
“Every crime has an act and a mental state,” said Pritchard. “We have an action where Mr. Finnegan hits Officer Kruse. We are not denying that. But what we are saying is that this crime is overcharged.”
The first witness to take the stand was Abe Laydon, the first individual to come into contact with Finnegan on the night of the assault. Laydon said that he was in an Uber that night, and they passed by Finnegan on Highlands Drive sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. He noted that he was kneeling in the street with his bloody hands clasped over his head, and his shirt unbuttoned. Laydon’s Uber passed by a crashed car on Highlands Drive soon after, spurring Laydon to call 911 and ask his driver to turn around to find Finnegan to provide assistance.
Laydon said they found Finnegan lying in the road in his boxers near the intersection with CO 9. He got out to speak with him and asked Finnegan if he was okay, but said he was largely incoherent and seemed to be intoxicated and upset. Laydon said there was a Summit Stage bus stopped in front of Finnegan, which also called the police to report the incident. Laydon stayed on scene until officer Kruse arrived. He said that before he left, Finnegan appeared to recognize Kruse as a police officer and was complying with her instructions to get out of the roadway.
Kruse took the stand herself later in the day. She said that she arrived on scene and noticed the bus stopped and Finnegan lying in the roadway with blood on his hands, neck and abdomen. She said Finnegan told her his name and complied without assistance when she directed him off the road. She asked him for more information about what he was doing there, at which point she said he jumped up, placed his hands behind his back and told her to “take me in.” She noted that he appeared to be intoxicated on alcohol, drugs or both.
She declined to place him under arrest, saying that she had no reason to physically detain him at the time and the priority was getting him medical attention for a large laceration on his hand. She told Laydon and the bus driver they were free to leave, and said she didn’t feel threatened at that time.
Kruse said Finnegan again jumped up and tried to get inside the patrol car. She noted that he looked over his shoulder and appeared to be getting ready to run. She then grabbed him by the wrist, citing safety concerns about him running into the highway and wanting to detain him for the investigation. It was at that point that Finnegan became aggressive and violent, Kruse said.
“The next thing I remember is feeling stunned and stumbling backwards,” Kruse said. “I knew I was in trouble and needed assistance. … I believe I was hit in the head. I was stunned, my glasses were off and my earpiece for my radio wasn’t in my ear.”
Kruse said she was able to call for backup, but essentially lost all memory of the assault itself. She said she woke up on her back with severely impaired vision due to swollen eyes. Once she was able to stand, she witnessed sheriff’s deputy Wanda Wilkerson detaining Finnegan on the hood of her car and went to assist in the arrest. She was transported to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco where she received treatment for a large laceration above her eye, severe bruising around her whole head and a mild concussion. She returned to the hospital days later with a bruise around her neck and said she may have also been strangled in some capacity, though didn’t report any neck pain or difficulty breathing after the altercation.
Wilkerson, the first law enforcement agent to arrive on scene following the assault, also took the stand. In her testimony she said that she arrived shortly after Kruse to provide backup, and witnessed Finnegan punching the back of Kruse’s car. Finnegan walked into one of the lanes on CO 9 as she approached, and dropped to his knees and placed his hands behind his head as instructed. Wilkerson handcuffed Finnegan and put him up against the hood of the vehicle, but noted he started “squirming and moving around.” She said Kruse was bleeding from the head and was struggling to stand when she first saw her, but that she soon got up and assisted in the arrest.
“He seemed disoriented, confused and erratic,” said Wilkerson of Finnegan. Wilkerson and others that testified on Wednesday said that Finnegan was suffering from severe mood shifts between wild and lethargic, at times fighting against officers one moment and struggling to stay responsive the next.
Wilkerson said other deputies and officers arrived on scene shortly after to assist in the arrest, and she went to the hospital to accompany Kruse. At the hospital she also checked in on Finnegan, who she said was restrained, but was pulling on his straps and hadn’t yet calmed down.
Sheriff’s deputy David Dugger also testified, saying that Wilkerson had already arrested Finnegan by the time he and other deputies arrived. Dugger said that Finnegan was sweating profusely and may have been in a state of excited delirium brought on by the use of illicit narcotics. Kevin Jensen, one of Finnegan’s attorneys, contended that the defendant’s state of mind might have been altered by a head injury resulting from the car crash earlier that night.
Dugger went on to say that it took three or four deputies to keep Finnegan under control as they took him into custody.
The trial will continue on Thursday morning at 8:45, with Chief Judge Mark Thompson presiding. District Attorney Bruce Brown and Stephanie Cava are prosecuting the case, while Kevin Jensen and Everett Pritchard are defending Finnegan.
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