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Nebraska Coach’s Suit Dismissed

February 4, 1998

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A federal judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by former Nebraska linebackers coach Kevin Steele against Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf ruled Friday that Lacey was acting in a protected capacity when he referred to Steele in a 1995 Sports Illustrated article about the off-field problems of Nebraska players.

Steele, now an assistant with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, sued Lacey in 1996, claiming the remarks caused ``substantial damage.″

The article examined the troubles of former Cornhuskers Lawrence Phillips, Christian Peter, Riley Washington and Tyrone Williams.

According to the article, Steele was handed a .22-caliber handgun used by Williams in a 1994 shooting before any charges had been filed in connection with the incident. Lacey told SI the gun should have been turned over to investigators immediately.

The article didn’t identify its source for the information about Steele’s reception of the gun. Lacey never mentioned Steele by name in the article.

Kopf determined that Nebraska law exempts public officials from slander and libel lawsuits when they are acting in an official capacity. He ruled that Lacey’s statements to news media about Williams were related to his involvement in the case.

Steele’s lawsuit had argued that Lacey made the statement outside his official capacity, but the judge said Steele failed to prove the contention.

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