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Owner gets fraction of $1.25m sought in demolition lawsuit

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CANTON — After four days of trial testimony in his 14-year-old case against St. Lawrence County, Daniel L. Colon described the verdict Thursday as “a slap in the face.”

Standing outside County Court, his arm around his crying daughter, Victoria, Mr. Colon was trying to absorb the verdict in his lawsuit seeking $1.25 million for damage to a building he and his late wife, Catherine, owned at 100-B Main St., Hermon.

The seven-person jury ruled for Mr. Colon on the merits of his case, but awarded him only $5,000.

County workers damaged the building extensively on May 14, 1999, by demolishing an adjoining building owned by the county at 100-A Main St.

The jury ruled Karl O.

Bend

Bender, director of the St. Lawrence County Solid Waste Department at the time and project manager for the county demolition, was not justified in being in Mr. Colon’s building that day. Mr. Colon was not awarded any money on that count.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Bender said he was ordered by then-Sheriff Keith K. Knowlton to guide his deputies to the building’s roof, where Mr. Colon had climbed to try to prevent the continued demolition of the adjoining county building.

The lawsuit also alleged Mr. Knowlton overstepped his authority by directing deputies to take Mr. Colon in for a psychiatric evaluation. The jury awarded Mr. Colon $5,000 in ruling Mr. Knowlton did not have reasonable grounds to believe Mr. Colon was mentally ill or a threat to himself or others in his actions on the roof.

Mr. Colon sought $1.25 million alleging reckless and negligent conduct by the county, but the court dismissed that claim Wednesday morning.

“The county was acting as the owner of the property and not as the government,” Mr. Colon said regarding state Supreme Court Justice David R. Demarest’s decision to dismiss the charge.

“They just reduced 14 years of my life, my whole future, my daughter’s future, the life of my wife — they just reduced it down to $5,000.” Mr. Colon said of the verdict. “It’s a slap in the face. It’s what it cost me to be here this week. This will be appealed. The fight isn’t over.”

But even with the heartache and disappointment, Mr. Colon said he still feels as though he won in court.

“I feel that we convinced the jury even with them seeing only half of what they could have seen, that we had them convinced at that point that I was in the right,” Mr. Colon said. “We followed all procedure. Everything that we could have done we did legally.”

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