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Ballan says charges against Labier should be dropped

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POTSDAM - The Potsdam man charged with disorderly conduct and criminal nuisance during an incident at Lawrence Avenue Elementary last month entered a not guilty plea during his first appearance on the charges with counsel in Potsdam Village Court.

Toby J. Labier pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree criminal nuisance and disorderly conduct filed following his Oct. 3 meeting with Lawrence Avenue Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne.

St. Lawrence County Assistant Public Defender Steven G. Ballan advised his client to hire a civil rights attorney, noting that in his mind both Labier’s First and Second Amendment rights are being violated by the charges currently pending against him, as well as an order of protection that required him to turn over all of his weapons.

During the meeting with Mr. Jenne, which grew heated, it is alleged Labier said, “You wonder why people come into school and shoot things up.”

Mr. Jenne then called village police and the school ended up going into lockout mode for approximately 45 minutes while the police searched for Labier.

And while Mr. Ballan said the school had every right to go into lockout mode, he fails to see where a crime was committed.

“He’s being charged in violation of his First Amendment rights,” Mr. Ballan said, arguing his client has a right to free speech. “Even if they felt threatened, that’s too bad for them.”

Given this opinion no crime was actually committed. Mr. Ballan urged Potsdam Village Justice Nicholas Pignone to vacate the order of protection that bars Labier from going to the school, contacting Mr. Jenne and possessing any weapons.

“I’m going to keep it in place,” Mr. Pignone said.

The case was then adjourned until Dec. 13. Mr. Ballan said he will be filing a motion seeking to have the charges against his client dismissed.

“I’m going to work on the motion today,” he said, adding he is hoping to have it in the judge’s hands before Labier’s next court date.

While Mr. Ballan said he had no problem filing a motion to dismiss the charges, he challenged St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole Duve to “do the right thing” and dismiss the charges on their lack of merit.

“I can’t believe this gentleman is charged with a crime. The DA’s office should be ashamed of themselves. He didn’t threaten a soul,” Mr. Ballan said. “The DA should be upholding the law, which includes the constitution.”

Had the statement included some form of a threat, Mr. Ballan said it would then merit criminal charges.

“I totally agree that threats are not protected speech, but it is not a threat unless you say you’re going to do it,” he said. “This case needs to be dismissed by the people. Nicole Duve needs to look at this say, ‘There’s no crime here. We can’t prosecute this.’”

During his appearance in court Friday, Labier also asked about hunting, noting the current order of protection prohibits his from possessing weapons means he can’t hunt.

The initial order had prohibited Labier from possessing weapons but it had been modified a few days after his arrest Labier reportedly told the court he no longer had any weapons of his own and he simply wanted to borrow a gun from a friend so that he could go hunting. That order was modified a second time after the court reportedly determined Labier’s statement about his weapons wasn’t accurate.

Mr. Pignone told Labier Friday he was not going to modify the order of protection again. He noted his decision was due in large part to Labier allegedly previously lying to the court about his possession of weapons.

“That’s based off of what you told me,” Mr. Pignone said.

Assistant District Attorney Lloyd Grandy had appeared before Mr. Pignone two weeks ago to request the order of protection be modified and require Labier to turn over any weapons in his possession to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’ve gotten reports from the victim who is already protected by an order of protection that individuals saw the individual with what appeared to be a weapon,” Mr. Grandy said. “That individual was a school bus driver and there is also a parent involved who is deeply concerned about that.”

Mr. Grandy said at that court appearance he was aware that the original order of protection calling for Labier to turn over his weapons had been modified, so that Labier, who told the court he was a hunter, could do so this year.

“It appears that this court has been misled and he never sold his weapons, as indicated,” Mr. Grandy said. “He did attempt to give them to someone else, but that didn’t work out the way he wanted, and that request was so close in time to the original incident, that all of this put together leads me to believe that this person is an individual who is going to lie to the court and take such steps to protect his right to have access to weapons, even though there were already concerns he was going to use them in a way that’s going to be dangerous to the community and especially to the school.”

After hearing that Labier might still possess weapons during that Oct. 18 court appearance, Mr. Pignone had asked when Labier was observed in possession of firearms.

“Just days after you had lifted the original order which called for the surrender,” Mr. Grandy responded.

The assistant district attorney also noted at that time village police responded to an anonymous complaint and confirmed, as part of their investigation, that he did attempt to give “two long guns” to his neighbor.

Sgt. Charlie Daniels of the Potsdam Village Police Department said he spoke with Labier’s neighbor who confirmed the discussion had taken place.

“He indicated that upon hearing of the incident that took place with the defendant he didn’t want the responsibility for the guns and turned them back over to the defendant. He later indicated that the defendant then turned the guns over to his sister,” Sgt. Daniels said. “It appears that he’s being, at best, selectively honest with this court.”

After hearing from both Mr. Grandy and Sgt. Daniels, Mr. Pignone restored the order to its original status and required Labier to turn over all of his weapons to the Sheriff’s department by 6 p.m. that night.

“Based on that apparent misrepresentation I’m going to put that provision back in,” Mr. Pignone said. “I’m not sure what he is or is not being honest about.”

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