Man who was readying AK-47 at bar closing time in Lawrence sentenced to 16 months

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Dayson Gage Kelley, pictured in February 2020

A man who officers believed was readying a semi-automatic assault rifle around closing time in a popular Lawrence bar district was sentenced Thursday to 16 months in prison.

The judge told him that he or police officers could have lost their lives, and “that is something that none of us can stomach thinking about.”

Dayson G. Kelley, 19, of Topeka, was arrested in the early hours of Friday, Feb. 28, after Lawrence police officers Joshua Doncouse and Ian McCann saw him take a rifle out of the trunk of a vehicle in a parking lot near 14th and Ohio streets, the site of three popular college bars.

Based on Kelley’s actions, police believed he had prepared the weapon for use and intended to fire it. They drew their guns and shouted at Kelley to drop the weapon. Doncouse wrote in an affidavit that Kelley had looked directly at them; “However, instead of complying, the male, without dropping the rifle, dropped down behind the Toyota, apparently seeking cover.”

Doncouse believed Kelly was “tactically seeking cover and was preparing to engage (fire the weapon)” at officers or at the crowd of patrons exiting the bars, he wrote.

Kelley was charged March 3, 2020, with two counts of aggravated assault on law enforcement officers and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, court records show. On Dec. 9, he pleaded no contest to two counts of attempted aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office said at the time. It was not clear what his prior felony was.

Doncouse and McCann were not present for the sentencing hearing, but Chief Assistant District Attorney Eve Kemple said they were comfortable with the plea because Kelley had taken responsibility for his actions.

Kemple told the judge the officers wanted her to know that “in the moment the defendant pointed the loaded AK-47 at them, they believed they were going to die. They were very traumatized by his conduct,” she said.

As part of the plea agreement, Kelley had agreed not to ask the judge for a shortened sentence or probation, defense attorney Jerry Wells said during the hearing.

“He’s very fortunate that he wasn’t killed or badly wounded by these officers given the circumstances of the case, and I’ve informed him of that and I think he knows that,” Wells said.

Wells said he had discussed the case with Kelley, and he said that if Kelley took the sentence the right way, it would be a life lesson for him; if he didn’t learn from it, though, he would take an alternative path that could harm him for life.

“I think that I have seen something in Mr. Kelley that’s worth saving,” Wells said.

Kelley was emotional throughout the hearing, frequently sniffling, grabbing tissues and putting his head down. Judge Amy Hanley gave him an opportunity to speak, and he said he was sorry to everybody the incident had affected. He said he wanted to make this a turning point in his life.

“This isn’t who I am or who I want to be forever,” Kelley said.

Hanley told Kelley that he was going to prison because of the nature of the incident involving the loaded AK-47, and because he, the officers and others could have lost their lives that night.

“That’s just a thought that I can barely tolerate,” she said.

Hanley sentenced Kelly to standard sentences of 16 months for the first count and eight months for the second, but the counts will run concurrently. She said she could have made the sentences consecutive but she did not because Kelley had taken responsibility, apologized and acknowledged what he had done wrong. She also considered his demeanor in the courtroom, she said.

Hanley said it was in Kelley’s hands whether he truly did change his course, and she hoped to see him down the line as a productive member of society.

Patrick Compton, a spokesperson for the Lawrence Police Department, told the Journal-World in March that officers’ priority in any situation that involves a firearm in public is to preserve life and avoid potential catastrophes. He said police acted quickly to avoid a situation that “could have easily ended in tragedy.”

After the sentencing Thursday, Compton said he didn’t know what Kelley’s intentions were that night. But he said that as a civilian employee of LPD, it’s “incredibly humbling” for him to hear about how the officers risk their own lives to handle situations like this one.

“This incident highlights the extremely dangerous nature of the profession and shows how quickly a situation like that can evolve,” Compton said. “… These two officers were solely focused on the safety of the crowd, and all of their decisions that night stemmed from that.”

Kelley is eligible for 20% good time credit. Once he is released from prison, he will have 12 months of post-release supervision, and he must register as a violent offender for 15 years.

Kelley served six days in jail before he was released on a $50,000 surety bond, jail records show. His bond was revoked and he was remanded into custody Thursday.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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Related coverage

March 25, 2020: Lawrence police spokesman: Officers acted quickly in situation that ‘could have easily ended in tragedy’

March 24, 2020: Topeka teen was readying AK-47 as crowds left Lawrence bars, affidavit alleges


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