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Charges dropped against Potsdam man accused of making threatening comment to school principal

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POTSDAM — Criminal charges filed against a Potsdam man after he fumed about guns and school shootings during a meeting with a school administrator have been dismissed.

Toby J. LaBier, 37, of Potsdam, had been charged with one count of second-degree criminal nuisance and one count of disorderly conduct following an Oct. 3 meeting at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School that began as a discussion about the new Common Core learning standards and became tense.

Principal Larry B. Jenne told police that Mr. LaBier said to him, “You wonder why people come into school and shoot things up.” Perceiving the comment as a potential threat, Potsdam administrators placed the school in lockout mode for close to an hour while police searched Mr. LaBier.

When he last appeared in court on Nov. 1, Mr. LaBier pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorney, St. Lawrence County Assistant Public Defender Steven G. Ballan, said he would file a motion to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that Mr. LaBier never actually threatened anyone and his freedom of speech was being violated.

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

And that’s exactly what her office did this week.

Ms. Duve, the district attorney, said her office decided not to prosecute the case rather than argue Mr. Ballan’s motion.

“Based on our review of the paperwork filed in the court and our review of statutory and case law, it appeared clear that while what Mr. LaBier did was extremely insensitive and a poor exercise of judgement, it was not criminal,” she said.

Despite the outcome of the case, Ms. Duve and Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady both said Mr. Jenne acted appropriately.

“I believe that the school district did the right thing by bringing what happened to the attention of the authorities so the facts of the case could be reviewed,” Ms. Duve said.

“Principal Jenne was correct in reporting what he believed to be a threat at the elementary school. He did his job, which is to protect the students and staff,” Mr. Brady said. “What happens after that with the police, the DA’s office and the courts is out of our hands.”

Mr. Brady also said that although the case did not end in a conviction, he believes that by pressing charges, the district sent a message to others who might consider similar types of behavior.

“I think regardless of the outcome, a strong message was sent that such behavior will not be tolerated in our district,” he said. “We live in a different time now, where every threat to our schools needs to be taken seriously.”

Attempts to reach Mr. LaBier and Mr. Ballan were not successful on Friday.

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