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Lawyer for Potsdam man arrested over remark to school principal says client’s rights violated

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POTSDAM — The lawyer for the Potsdam man charged with criminal nuisance after his remark to a school principal was taken as a threat said his client’s civil rights have been violated.

Toby J. Labier, 37, pleaded not guilty Friday in Potsdam Village Court to second-degree criminal nuisance and disorderly conduct. He was arrested Oct. 3 after a tense meeting with Lawrence Avenue Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne, who told police Mr. Labier said to him, “You wonder why people come into school and shoot things up.”

Potsdam schools were put in lockout mode for 45 minutes that morning as police searched for Mr. Labier. In a lockout, as opposed to a complete lockdown, visitors are barred from entering the schools and children are not allowed to leave, but classes and activities carry on as normal inside.

St. Lawrence County Assistant Public Defender Steven G. Ballan advised Mr. Labier to hire a civil rights attorney, saying his First and Second Amendment rights are being violated by the criminal charges and an order of protection that requires him to surrender his weapons.

The lawyer said that, although school administrators had the right to go into lockout mode, Mr. Labier did not commit a crime.

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

Mr. Ballan urged Potsdam Village Justice Nicholas J. Pignone to vacate the order of protection that bars Mr. Labier from going to the school, contacting Mr. Jenne and possessing any weapons.

“I’m going to keep it in place,” said the judge, who adjourned the case to Dec. 13.

Mr. Ballan said he will file a motion seeking to have the charges against his client dismissed. He also urged St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duve to “do the right thing” and dismiss the charges for lack of merit.

Mr. Labier “didn’t threaten a soul,” Mr. Ballan said. “The DA should be upholding the law, which includes the Constitution.”

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