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Mother of alleged MS-13 victim sues Brentwood school officials

The bodies of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens were found brutally beaten and stabbed in Brentwood on Sept. 13, 2016.

Evelyn Rodriguez, mother of victim Kayla Cuevas, testifies

Evelyn Rodriguez, mother of victim Kayla Cuevas, testifies at federal court in Central Islip before Reps. Peter King and Kathleen Rice on June 20, 2017. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The mother of slain Brentwood High School teen Kayla Cuevas has filed a $110 million federal suit against the Brentwood schools saying the district failed to protect her daughter against MS-13 gang members and ignored warnings about repeated threats to the girl.

Cuevas, 16, and her friend, Nisa Mickens, 15, were found brutally beaten and stabbed in Brentwood on Sept. 13, 2016. More than a half-dozen alleged members of the MS-13 street gang were indicted in March in their killings as well as the slaying of a member of the gang.

In the suit, Cuevas’ mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, alleges that employees and educators in the Brentwood schools “were aware of the growing numbers of students belonging to the MS-13 gang within the school district . . . and were aware of the violent propensities” of the gang.

Javier A. Solano, the Manhattan-based attorney representing Rodriguez, said Tuesday that Rodriguez hopes the lawsuit sends a message to Brentwood and other school districts that they have to protect their students.

Speaking to News12, Rodriguez said the district “failed our Kayla.”

“You let her go into that environment knowing there was a serious threat and you did nothing and they still continue to do nothing,” she said Tuesday.

A district spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, citing pending litigation.

The suit is the latest development regarding gang activity and the school district in Brentwood, the Island’s largest with more than 18,000 students. Just last week, Suffolk County police announced the arrests of three alleged MS-13 gang members and two associates in an alleged plot to abduct a 16-year-old boy near the high school’s Ross Center. Four of the five charged were identified by police as Brentwood students.

The federal suit, filed Monday in Eastern District court in Central Islip, said that the Brentwood schools failed for more than two years to address bullying and harassment against Cuevas by members of the gang and failed to train staff to recognize threats.

The court papers said Cuevas was assaulted by a student while attending summer school in 2015 and also was threatened with a knife by a student at the school “who was known to be member of the MS-13 gang.”

The court papers said that school employees including teachers assured Cuevas that this student — who is not named in the documents — would not be on school grounds.

But on the first day of the 2016-17 school year in September, Cuevas encountered the student on school grounds at Brentwood High School’s Ross Center. Cuevas and her mother were assured that the student “was not and could not” be on school grounds, according to the documents.

But, then on Sept. 8, “Cuevas was marked for death” by the student and other students known to be members of MS-13 who made a throat-slicing gesture toward the girl, according to the suit. The court papers say the district was aware of the threats and were told by Cuevas and Rodriguez that the threats were captured on the school’s surveillance system. The documents said that the district did not inform law enforcement.

Five days later, Cuevas was on school grounds when she was accosted by the student and gang members and “ultimately chased off school grounds and brutally murdered,” the court papers said.

The court papers also said that Cuevas had suffered “serious psychological trauma, emotional distress and a need for psychological counseling” as a result of the ongoing bullying and harassment.

Gang violence has put the community in the national spotlight, drawing the attention of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Authorities have linked 11 killings in Brentwood and Central Islip in the past 15 months to MS-13.

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had announced a plan to put state troopers in 10 local schools, including Brentwood, but details of the plan were not worked out at the time of the announcement. Brentwood officials said last week that issue remains “unresolved.”

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