Near the end of a school day early this year at North Miami Senior High, a student approached one of his classmates — a mentally disabled teenage girl in a job training program.
He told her she was pretty and asked her to follow him, leading her to another boy who took her hand. They slipped into a janitor’s closet, closed the door, turned out the lights and — joined by three other boys — gang raped her, according to arrest forms.
One boy told her not to tell, but she did after a security guard caught them leaving the closet. The girl later told Miami-Dade school police the boys “forced her to perform oral, anal and vaginal sex acts.”
The charges of the horrific rape left many teachers shaken and worried about security on a campus with 2,400 students. But it has escaped public attention until now, as her four accused assailants face pending trials in Miami-Dade County criminal court.
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Kenoldo Alexis, 17, Derek D’Angelo Bynum, 18, Steven Akeem Joseph, 15, and David Lombard, 17, all face felony sexual battery charges on a person with mental disabilities. A fifth student was arrested in the case, but prosecutors dropped the charges against him.
Lombard faces an additional charge of battery. Court records show Bynum and Lombard have pleaded not guilty. The others have not yet entered pleas.
“The discovery process is ongoing. We’re trying to get to the bottom of what, if anything, happened — and all the clients remain and are presumed innocent,” said Matthew Ladd, a lawyer representing Lombard. Lawyers for the other teens did not return requests for comment.
In a statement, the school district expressed sympathy for the girl and praised Miami-Dade school police for making arrests in the case.
“Our thoughts continue to be with the victim and her family,” the statement read.
Because the girl is a minor, many court records have been redacted, but the basic details are disturbing. Police reports indicate the student has the vocabulary of a toddler, but school district officials and Ladd said that was based on testing more then a decade ago.
Efforts to reach the teen’s parents were unsuccessful.
According to a police report, a school security guard caught Joseph leaving the closet along with the victim just minutes before school ended. It’s unclear how long the teens were in the closet, but court files reference a surveillance video that may help prosecutors determine that, as well as who was involved.
Bynum, according to the court documents, told police that he didn’t know the teen was mentally disabled. He initially admitted to forcing the victim to perform oral sex and “telling the victim to stop because she did a terrible job.” But he has pleaded not guilty and, after his arrest, he wrote to the judge on his case to say he was innocent and to ask for help.
“I feel like I’m being tried and accused of something I did not do,” he wrote on notebook paper. “All I want to do is graduate from high school, make my family proud and be somebody. But, this case, I feel like it will ruin my chances and my dreams.”
He ended the note with: “I’m sorry. I’m really a good kid.”
Court records show Bynum was expelled from North Miami for “sexual harassment,” according to the school district. He and the other boys were assigned to alternative schools. A trial date has only been set in Lombard’s case, for July 13, but there have been ongoing hearings and subpoenas in all the cases.
Miami-Dade schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said the victim was in a job-training program for disabled students who are high-functioning. The teen would have been allowed to walk around school alone as students in the program are largely independent.
“While we struggle to understand the senseless depravity of this isolated but disturbing student incident, we commend the deliberate and swift actions of Miami-Dade Schools Police in apprehending the alleged perpetrators,” the district said in an emailed statement.
The arrest of the students in mid-January came just months after another student at the same school said in September that he was raped by three classmates in the gym locker room. Police say they didn’t move forward with the investigation because the boy suffered a mental breakdown and couldn’t be interviewed.
While about a half-dozen students who spoke to the Miami Herald said they felt safe on campus, some teachers say they raised concerns about safety throughout the year at faculty meetings and in conversations with school leadership.
“I feel like sometimes, some major incident or catastrophe has to happen before it gets taken care of. That’s horrible to say, but what will it really take to get the staffing that we need or the training that we need,” teacher Annette Quintero asked.
Daniel Martinez, an English teacher at North Miami, said the school began to feel like a mall because so many students would hang out in the hallways.
Maj. Adrian Brockington, a retired Army veteran and JROTC instructor at the school, said teachers were regularly asked to monitor the hallways and lunch periods.
“We did not have enough security,” he said. “You look outside the classroom door, and you have like 100 students cutting class.”
The school district counters that the school, 13110 NE Eighth Ave., was appropriately staffed with security guards, and pointed out that Miami-Dade has a nationally recognized program that trains teachers to deal with mental health issues.
Miami-Dade school police say North Miami employed 14 security guards when the department’s formula calls for 11 at the school. The district allocates security guards according to a formula that takes into account the number of incidents at a school, student population, campus size and other factors. Police will consider the incidents that occurred this year when deciding on staffing for the next school year.
“The safety and security of our students and staff represent one of our top priorities,” the district wrote in an emailed statement. “While it is nearly impossible to prevent isolated incidents, a clear understanding and review of all surrounding circumstances is undertaken to further perfect safety and security protocols.”
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this article.
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