The lawyer for Bellevue Police Chief John Stacey said the misdemeanor handgun charge filed against his client is possibly the first prosecution of its kind in Nebraska.
James Martin Davis said Thursday that Stacey committed no crime and that he has found no similar prosecutions in state case law.
“It's a real miscarriage of justice that the first prosecution of its kind is for a gentleman of 34 years of unblemished law enforcement service to the community,” Davis said. “I feel very good about winning the case, but I feel very bad that a gentleman like John Stacey has to be prosecuted under these circumstances.”
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov charged both Stacey and fired Gretna City Administrator Colleen Lawry with misdemeanors after Stacey provided her with a handgun several months ago.
Lawry had no certificate to possess a handgun, Polikov said, and Stacey knew it.
If either is convicted, the maximum penalty is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“We don't get any satisfaction out of this,” Polikov said. “It's sad when we have to prosecute someone who is a law enforcement official, but the law is the law and no one is above the law. The law is applied equally.”
Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders said it was premature to say whether the handgun charge would affect Stacey's job status or change the scope of the city's internal investigation of the chief.
Stacey remains on paid administrative leave. The investigation includes an allegation that he made an inappropriate remark to an underage girl at the Bellevue Fire Department.
Polikov said Stacey and Lawry would make their first appearances in Sarpy County Court in early June.
According to state law, a person shall not sell, lease, rent or transfer a handgun to someone who does not have a certificate except under certain circumstances.
An investigator seized a .38-caliber Taurus handgun from Lawry's home May 4. Stacey has acknowledged that the gun is his, saying he had loaned it to her temporarily.
Sanders urged Bellevue residents to be patient and let the city's lawyers conduct a thorough and fair internal investigation of Stacey, however long it might take.
“I cannot get in their way,” Sanders said of her city's legal staff, the Adams & Sullivan law firm of Papillion.
She asked residents not to jump to conclusions about Stacey. Stacey has been police chief since 2005 and served as the volunteer fire chief from 1984 until 1998. Until being put on leave, Stacey had continued to work two shifts a week at the Fire Department.
“We cannot rush it. If the interviews are taking long, let's do our due diligence,'' Sanders said “Let the attorneys and (City Administrator) Dan Berlowitz do their jobs. They have got work to do. Let's get all the facts.”
Sanders said the Police Department remains in good hands under the direction of Capt. Mark Elbert, who has been filling in as the acting chief in Stacey's absence.
One Bellevue City Council member expressed frustration with the pace of the investigation. Carol Blood said the administration should have resolved the matter by now.
“It has brought a dark shadow over the hard-working men and women of the Bellevue Police Department who put their lives on the line every day for us,” Blood said.
“All employees are entitled to a swift investigation and resolution, and I don't feel that it happened in this case. I have sincere empathy for Chief Stacey's family because by drawing this issue out, it made them victims as well.”
Elbert, the acting chief, sent a page-long email to his department this week updating them on Stacey's situation. It was sent before he learned about the handgun charge.
“I can't emphasize enough how proud I am of how you seem to be carrying on. Please keep your focus on your task, take care of one another, and this too shall pass.''
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