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Trial in defamation suit against Potsdam police at least a year away

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POTSDAM — It will be at least early 2014 before Oral “Nick” Hillary’s federal complaint that he was wrongfully identified by village police as a suspect in a child’s murder will come to trial, according to documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Syracuse.

Mr. Hillary, head soccer coach at Clarkson University, filed state Supreme Court action in Canton in September claiming police illegally detained him and damaged his reputation by making statements that implicated him in the death of 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips, who was strangled Oct. 24, 2011 at the youth’s upstairs apartment at North Country Manor Apartments, 100 Market St.

Mr. Hillary was not charged with a crime and no arrest has been made in connection with the boy’s death.

Mr. Hillary’s civil case against the village was transferred to federal court in November because he is claiming that his federal constitutional rights were violated. Among other claims, he contends he was subjected to unreasonable search and seizure and was deprived of due process when police questioned him in October 2011.

The village has filed a response denying the allegations, asserting, among other things, that village police are entitled to qualified immunity from prosecution in the matter because they “acted in a reasonable manner, with probable cause, in good faith, without malice and their actions were justified.”

According to a uniform pretrial scheduling order signed Thursday by Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles, the soonest the matter can be scheduled for trial is Jan. 31, 2014. That is the deadline the judge set for filing any dispositive motions. If no motions are filed, the motion filing date becomes the “trial ready date” in which both parties inform the court they are prepared to proceed to trial. If motions are filed, the trial ready date becomes the date that a judge decides the motions.

A jury trial, which both sides are requesting, is expected to last five days, according to the judge’s order.

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