A yearlong saga that began in a restaurant parking lot ended in a courtroom Thursday when former Bellevue Police Chief John Stacey was acquitted of a misdemeanor charge of transferring a firearm without a certificate.
It was at a Village Inn in Bellevue where then-Gretna City Administrator Colleen Lawry told Stacey she was worried about her safety. He lent her two guns so she could see how they felt before she purchased her own, Stacey testified.
But prosecutors said he erred because he didn't check whether she had obtained a certificate that allows a person to acquire a handgun in Nebraska.
Stacey said he didn't believe that the certificate was necessary for the loan of a handgun — only for a sale — and the Sarpy County Court jury agreed.
“This was really, really something simple and ridiculous,” Stacey said of the case.
James Martin Davis, his lawyer, argued that the law applied only to commercial transactions such as selling or leasing a handgun.
After the gun loan last year, Stacey retired from his job and Lawry was fired from hers amid allegations of impropriety.
Lawry was convicted of two misdemeanor counts in connection with her misuse of City of Gretna funds, and she is serving six months in jail. A gun charge against her was dropped as part of a plea deal.
Stacey had been placed on leave as police chief after allegations surfaced that he had made an inappropriate remark to a girl at a fire station.
He was publicly drawn into the Lawry matter when The World-Herald revealed that the pair had taken four overlapping out-of-state business trips to the same places.
The gun trial was the saga's last official chapter.
Prosecutor Nicole Hutter acknowledged that it's unusual to prosecute a former police chief. But she said he shouldn't be exempt from the law because of his position.
“This is not about who Mr. Stacey was,” she said. “It's about what he did.”
Davis accused the prosecutor's office of targeting Stacey.
“What are they trying to accomplish?” he asked. “What message are they trying to send?”
Lawry testified Thursday that she and Stacey met regularly to chat at the Village Inn.
She told him she was worried about her and her daughters' safety. Stacey suggested that she buy a handgun from Cabela's.
“I told her that she needed to obtain a firearm to protect herself,” Stacey said.
Lawry told him she was unfamiliar with guns and would feel uncomfortable about that.
She testified that Stacey, whom Lawry called “a former colleague of mine,” said she could borrow a gun from him.
In two instances, they walked to the restaurant's parking lot and he gave her a paper bag with a handgun and bullets, Lawry said.
She returned the first gun because it was too large and borrowed a smaller one.
“I literally only saw the guns for a matter of seconds before they went under my bed and stayed there,” Lawry said.
The two had no discussion about obtaining a certificate, Lawry said.
Stacey said he issued hundreds of firearm certificates as police chief and did not believe that the law applied to loans of firearms. He thought he was following the law, he said.
“There's nothing in the law about it being illegal to borrow or lend,” Stacey said.
After the verdict was read, Stacey said he was relieved.
“It's good to put it all behind,” he said.
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