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Potsdam again denies defamation claims

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POTSDAM — The village and its police department have again offered blanket denials of each allegation brought by Oral “Nick” Hillary in a federal defamation lawsuit.

Mr. Hillary filed state Supreme Court action in Canton in September, claiming police detained him illegally 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, in the youth’s upstairs apartment at North Country Manor Apartments, 100 Market St. The lawsuit was moved to U.S. District Court, Syracuse, in November because Mr. Hillary also is claiming that his federal constitutional rights were violated.

Mr. Hillary was not charged with a crime and no arrest has been made in connection with the boy’s death, but Mr. Hillary maintains in his action that he was detained unlawfully for questioning by police and that police identified him to at least one person as a suspect in the youth’s death. He claims that the alleged defamatory statements caused him anxiety, anger and loss of sleep, prompting him to seek counseling from medical professionals, among others.

On July 19, Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles approved Mr. Hillary’s request to file an amended complaint in which he raised the claim of negligence on the part of retired Chief Edward F. Tischler in his hiring, training, discipline and retention of Lt. Mark R. Murray, Sgt. Michael Ames and Sgt. Charles M. Daniels. The defendants are alleged to have “acted outrageously and in violation of (Mr. Hillary’s) constitutional rights” in detaining and questioning him, according to the suit.

On Friday, the village issued an answer to the complaint, denying more than 90 of his claims and admitting only that the defendants were or are employees of the police department. One of the defenses the village has offered is that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, as they acted in a reasonable manner, exercised due care under the circumstances, with probable cause, in good faith and without malice, and that their actions were justified.

The village also maintains, among other things, that Mr. Hillary cannot establish any damages based on his claim for defamation and the defendants “further assert truth of the matter as an absolute defense” against any claim. The village is demanding a jury trial in the matter.

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