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Fallen Smithsburg police officer's father wants son's service weapon

Two legislators propose bill to help Larry Nicholson with his quest

February 07, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher S. Nicholson was shot and killed in the line of duty Dec. 19, 2007.
File photo

More than four years after Smithsburg police Officer Christopher S. Nicholson was shot and killed while on duty, his father is trying to get the fallen officer’s service weapon.

Larry Nicholson said he wants the handgun as part of a memorial for his son.

Maryland law allows police officers’ guns to be sold or transferred in a variety of ways, but doesn’t permit what Larry Nicholson wants to do.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, and Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, have filed House and Senate versions of a bill to help Larry Nicholson with his quest.

The bill, if passed, would allow a law-enforcement agency to transfer the handgun of a deceased officer to the officer’s estate or to an immediate member of the officer’s family who has a handgun permit.

The law-enforcement agency may make the handgun inoperable before transferring it, under the bill, but Larry Nicholson, a correctional officer at Roxbury Correctional Institution, said he would prefer that not being done to his son’s weapon.

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Douglas Pryor was convicted in 2009 of murdering Nicholson on Dec. 19, 2007. That same day, Pryor also killed Alison Munson, with whom he had two children.

Pryor was sentenced to serve life in prison for the murders.

Smithsburg police Chief George L. Knight Jr. said Tuesday that Nicholson’s service weapon, a 9-millimeter Beretta 92F, was kept by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office until the prosecution and the appeals in Pryor’s case were over.

About six months ago, Larry Nicholson asked Knight about the possibility of getting his son’s weapon.

Under Maryland law, a law-enforcement agency has five ways to dispose of a handgun:

  • Destroy it.
  • Sell, exchange or transfer it to another law-enforcement agency for use by that agency.
  • Sell it to a retired police employee.
  • Sell it to the law-enforcement officer to whom the handgun was assigned
  • Sell, exchange or transfer it to a manufacturer.

Since Larry Nicholson’s request didn’t fit one of the five categories, Knight asked the Maryland State Police for guidance and was told it wasn’t legal.

Knight then talked to Serafini and Shank to see if they could help.

One possibility was having the police department sell the gun to the manufacturer, which would then sell it to the family, but that was complicated, Serafini said.

“The young man gave his life for the community,” he said. “They’re trying to respect the family’s request in this fashion. This was the last resort, to have to do legislation, but it seems to be the only way we can get this done.”

Serafini’s bill, which was filed first, is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 21. Larry Nicholson said he might testify, if it would help.

Paul Highbarger, Christopher Nicholson’s stepfather, said he agrees with Larry Nicholson’s request, “for history’s sake.”

Otherwise, the gun “could fall in the wrong hands,” Highbarger said.

Larry Nicholson said he and Christopher’s mother, Karen Highbarger, have each gathered many items that belonged to their son to keep his memory alive. The collection includes Christopher’s uniform, badge and personnel records.

“My biggest fear is after my generation and the generation after that passes, that no one will be here who knew what he did,” Larry Nicholson said.

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