Judge dismisses Hillary claims against St. Lawrence County, but not those against former DA Rain, Jones
Friday, March 1, 2019 - 2:45 pm

BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country Now

A federal judged has dismissed several claims against St. Lawrence County, the Village of Potsdam and New York State in a lawsuit filed by Nick Hillary, but civil actions against former district attorney Mary Rain and St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy John Jones were not included in the motion.

“St. Lawrence County is clearly pleased with the Northern District of New York Federal Court decision on this matter and thankful for the work of Attorney John Murad and Attorney Christina Verone-Juliano at Hancock and Estabrook,” St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button said of the ruling.

“While the County, Sheriff Wells, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and the New York State Police have had all claims against them dismissed, the action remains active against several defendants, including former St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain in her individual capacity and Deputy John Jones in his individual capacity, as these claims were either not addressed by the Court or were permitted to proceed,” Button said. “We thank the Court for its decision.”

Hillary, a former Clarkson University soccer coach, accused of strangling to death 12-year-old Garrett Phillips on Oct. 24, 2011, was tried in September 2016 on a charge of second-degree murder. He was acquitted after a bench trial that lasted about three weeks.

He filed a lawsuit against St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells, St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy John Jones, 10 unidentified St. Lawrence County employees, 10 unidentified St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office employees and 10 unidentified St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department employees, among others.

The lawsuit alleges violations of Hillary’s first, fourth and fourteenth amendment rights including “false arrest, investigation, malicious prosecution, fabrication of evidence, falsification of evidence, concealment of exculpatory evidence.”

The motion to dismiss, which was largely granted, sought relief from the lawsuit against all of the state, county defendants and Potsdam village defendants, except Rain and Jones.

U.S. District Court Gary Sharpe dismissed claims against the county, claims against state police investigators and many of the claims against the village or Potsdam. However the judge did not dismiss a claim of violation of the equal protection clause, a retaliatory prosecution violation, a defamation charge and a conspiracy allegation against Police Chief Mark Murray.

These charges were related to alleged discriminatory treatment of Hillary by Murray.

“The existence of probable cause does not necessarily obviate the need to examine whether Hillary was treated worse than he otherwise would have been because of a malicious or bad faith intent to injure him,” the ruling said. “Given the nature of the village defendants’ arguments, the court is not convinced that his claim should be dismissed at this juncture.”

The complaint filed by Hillary alleges that he was a “black individual of Jamaican descent, immediately targeted as a suspect and eventually indicated as opposed to Jones, who it can be reasonably inferred is white, also dated Phillips’ mother, and who was nearby the scene of the crime at the time of Phillips’ murder but was not pursued as a suspect.”