A Jamaican man who sued the town of Potsdam in New York and its police force after he was detained in 2011 in relation to the death of a young white boy, was charged with murder just over a week ago in what his attorney and supporters say is a move to punish him for filing the lawsuit.

The case is mushrooming into a civil rights issue as supporters of the accused football coach, Oral ‘Nick’ Hillary, believe he is being held on trumped-up charges because he, a black man, dared to file a lawsuit against Potsdam and its police officers, one of whom is seen in a YouTube video taking him into custody earlier this month.

Mani Tafari, the lawyer representing Hillary in that civil suit, and who is himself a Jamaican, told the Jamaica Observer that his client was charged because he filed a civil claim in January 2012 against the police for false arrest and unlawful search.

“This case is so political because they (the police) took it personal when he dared to sue them,” Tafari told the Observer via telephone from New York.

On October 24, 2011, 12-year-old Garett Phillips was found strangled and smothered in the apartment he shared with his mother, an ex-police officer, whom Hillary had previously dated. Tafari explained that the police were at Hillary’s home within minutes of the boy’s death and he was kept under surveillance for two days before taken to the police station.

He was detained all day before being released without charge and his name was allegedly leaked to the press as someone the police suspected. According to Tafari, he filed a Federal civil rights lawsuit for false arrest and unlawful search. “I also made it clear that his reputation was tarnished by the report in the newspaper,” he said of Hillary, with whom he played college football.

The complaint filed in the Supreme Court of New York, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer, stated that Hillary was asked to accompany the police to the station some time after 7:45 am on October 24, 2011, and was later prevented from leaving for work. His phone, according to the complaint, was forcefully confiscated and he was placed in a holding area until 5:00 pm that day when he was released without any explanation.

His vehicle, according to the complaint, was moved by the police from where he had parked it that morning and his request to get his wallet and keys from the unit was denied when the cops eventually allowed him to leave.

“Hillary was forced to leave the station dressed only in a hazardous material suit without access to his home, transportation, identification, and money. Earlier that day a police officer guarding Hillary’s home had prevented his minor daughter from entering,” according to the document. Thereafter, the Potsdam police reportedly met with Hillary’s assistant coach at Clarkson University, where he worked, and identified him as a suspect in the death of Phillips.

On November 30, 2011, the police went to Hillary’s home to execute a search warrant. According to court documents, during the search one of the policemen forcefully pulled Hillary’s one-year-old son from his arms while another dragged his cellular phone away. It was on those grounds that Hillary filed the civil suit against the police. However, according to Tafari, the main defendant in that case, Mark Murray, was at court on May 16 to arrest Hillary on the first eligible day that the court could have made a decision in the matter.

According to the lawyer, although the dead boy’s mother had other exboyfriends, including a police officer, no one else was questioned in the matter.

Tafari said the former St Lawrence County district attorney had not charged Hillary two-and-a-half years ago because there was no eyewitness evidence or DNA linking him to the killing. “He has an alibi and yet he is being prosecuted,” Tafari argued. He explained that current District Attorney Mary Rain, who campaigned on a promise to prosecute Phillips’ death, is resisting all attempts at Hillary being granted bail.

Tafari said when Hillary appeared in court on Friday, May 16, the judge set the bail bond at US $150,000. However, when the family turned up the following Monday they were informed that the DA had objected to bail, resulting in Hillary being held without bond. He is scheduled to return to court on May 30. Meanwhile, Tafari is adamant that Rain is now misleading the public. In legal papers filed in Federal court on May 18, Tafari claims “Rain misleads the public to believe that some piece of evidence was discovered through the instant action to implicate plaintiff (Hillary) in the murder”.

“Instant action” refers to the lawsuit Hillary brought against the village of Potsdam and its police for naming him as a ‘person of interest’ in the death of Phillips. An article in the Watertown Daily Times quoted Rain as telling reporters that information prosecutors got as a result of the lawsuit helped lead to Hillary’s arrest. But Tafari said: “Ms Rain wants to deny Hillary, the public, and the media the opportunity to take an educated look at the version of the events and the so-called evidence that she relies upon to wrongfully convict Plaintiff (Hillary) in the murder”.

As such, he is seeking to have the records of the lawsuit made public. “It is clear that Mary Rain and defendants oppose the unsealing to ensure that they are the only parties controlling the flow of information to the public regarding the investigation of Garrett Phillips’ homicide and plaintiff’s (Hillary’s) alleged involvement and to continue prosecuting an innocent man for the crime.” The newspaper said Rain has argued that making public the records in the lawsuit would compromise the investigation into Phillips’ death. However, scores of people have been vouching for Hillary’s character as they remain adamant that he is innocent. A former football player for Excelsior High School before he migrated as a teen to the US, Hillary was a popular college football player before he took a job as a coach.

A 1999 New York Times article, in describing Hillary and four other football players, stated: “They developed their swagger in Brooklyn and their ball-handling skills on the island of Jamaica and other points south. Travelling a well-worn trail, they have now transferred their talents and aspirations to New York and points north. “The five Caribbean members of St Lawrence University’s soccer team have divined strengths from each leg of a journey that has taken them to snowy Canton, NY, just minutes from the Canadian border. The article further quoted Hillary as saying “the current crop (of players) comes from poor single-parent families that moved to New York so the children would have better educational opportunities. Hillary, the second oldest of 13 children, calls his mother, Dorrette, “my right hand”.

“Hillary, 24, who served as a tank gunner in the clean-up operation after the Gulf War, hopes to pursue a teaching career,” the article stated. Heather Grant, another Jamaican who said she went to high school in New York with Hillary, was compelled to make contact with the Observer as she knows he is not capable of such a heinous crime. “Hillary was a very patient and passionate person and I know this is not something he could do,” she told the Observer via telephone from New York. “The person they are describing, that is just not him,” she said, and committed to engaging in any effort for his freedom. An online petition by Hillary’s supporters for the judge to release him from jail describes him as a loving father, coach, and military veteran who has served the United States honourably. According to the petition, “Nick has deep roots in the Canton/Potsdam area and would never flee his obligations”. It noted further that he is a lover of children and would never hurt or cause harm to a child. “Release Nick Hillary from jail so that he can better prepare to defend himself against lies and misinformation. Don’t let them use lies, trickery, and political gain to keep a honourable man away from his family,” the petition stated. In one comment on the online petition www.nickhillary.com, one writer identified as Ryan Carruth, who said he has known Hillary for two decades, is adamant that he is innocent. “He has been a leader of men, a compassionate friend, coach, community member, and a devoted father. I think that the prosecution has underestimated the number of people who are in Nick’s corner, and we know beyond a shadow of doubt that he is innocent,” he said, adding that there is strength in numbers. Another person, who identified himself as Brendan DeMelle, wrote “Nick is one of the most honourable, disciplined and kind gentlemen I’ve ever known. I believe one hundred per cent innocent is an understatement, one hundred per cent wrongfully accused is more like it.” However, the petition is competing with another group who is calling for him to remain behind bars. “This man is a danger to the community, he is a flight risk, and could possibly tamper with the witnesses who can put him away for this horrendous crime. Don’t take that chance by allowing him to make any sort of bail. We all want the same thing — justice for Garrett,” the group said.


  1. If him innocent him doing the right thing. You haffi clear ur name cause once spot guh gense it, dats it fi u. Police nuh give a shit bout misery dem cause ppl unlawfully.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top