By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD, N.H. — Windham police Chief Gerald Lewis is accused of callously ignoring state firearm regulations when he didn’t respond to a local man’s request for a handgun permit within the required 14 days.
“This chief is so brazen ... he doesn’t care about the law,” said Penny Dean, an attorney for Windham resident Daniel Popvici-Muller.
He was eventually granted a permit, but still decided to challenge Lewis’ violation of the law.
“This chief has issued hundreds of licenses to the community and he should have known the rules and the law,” Dean said.
Dean told Judge Kenneth McHugh during a heated hourlong hearing yesterday in Rockingham County Superior that Lewis has a cavalier attitude when it comes to following state statute. She said that because of that cavalier attitude, Windham residents have a right to be concerned about their police chief.
“They are afraid of the repercussions of living in that town,” Dean said.
Popvici-Muller applied for the permit Aug. 14, but didn’t receive it until Sept. 4 after he and Dean contacted the police department several times and were told it had not been granted, she said. The deadline was Aug. 28.
State law requires a written response — whether the request is granted or not — within 14 days. Although the permit was eventually granted, Dean said her client never received a written response. While defense attorney Bernard Campbell acknowledged the police department missed the deadline, he said it was not intentional.
“We have admitted it was more than 14 days,” he said.
Campbell said there was a slight delay contacting references and an additional three-day delay because a police captain who would have handled the request was busy resolving technology issues within the department.
Court records indicate another resident seeking a gun permit a year ago did not receive a response until two days after the deadline, Dean said. That person was denied a permit. Campbell said only a handful of alleged violations in Lewis’ eight years as Windham police chief does not constitute a major problem.
“If I kill only two people and there are 1,400 people in my class,” that’s OK?” she said. “What they are trying to do is make it difficult for my client.”
Campbell also asked that Dean not be allowed to represent Popvici-Muller because she is a material witness in the case.
Dean, well known throughout New Hampshire as a firearms rights advocate, also represents The Gun Owners of New Hampshire.
Dean said she requested the reimbursement of legal costs and an injunction to ensure Windham police comply with the law. She also asked for the dates of when other Windham residents applied for gun permits and received responses from the police department. At least two others have challenged the police department in 10th Circuit Court in Salem.
Popvici-Muller’s case landed in Superior Court after it was dismissed without prejudice in Circuit Court on Oct. 2.
Much of the hearing yesterday focused on the dates when calls were placed between Popvici-Muller and Dean and the police department. Dean objected to Campbell’s request that her phone records be subpoenaed. The contentiousness of the hearing even surprised the judge.
“I thought this was going to be a very simple hearing,” McHugh said. “It turned out to be something more than that.”
Neither Lewis nor Popvici-Muller spoke during the hearing. Lewis declined to speak after the hearing.
“I can’t comment,” he said. “It is what it is.”