Victim’s lawyer lays groundwork for filing civil suit
MOUNT PLEASANT—The eight girl wanted in connection with a brutal attack on a counselor at the Pleasantville Cottage School has been arrested.
Erica Mateo, 14, was picked up shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday in the Bronx, where she was spotted at a pay phone near East 180th Street and Webster Avenue, Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno said yesterday.
“We’ve had two officers checking various locations in New York City a few times a week, and we finally found her,” Alagno said. He said Mateo was arrested without incident.
“I think she was resigned to the fact that she had finally been apprehended,” he said. “She said she had considered turning herself in but just couldn’t bring herself to do it.”
News of the arrest came on the same day lawyers for the 32-year-old victim announced that they have obtained a court order compelling the Jewish Child Care Association, which owns and operates the Cottage School, to provide information on security at the campus at 1075 Broadway and to permit employees to give legal depositions. Lawyer David Worby said his firm plans to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit within the next several months.
“It’s in the hands of law enforcement now, which is where it belongs,” JCCA spokeswoman Jane Barowitz said of Mateo’s arrest. She would not discuss the discovery action being taken by the victim’s lawyers, saying, “We cannot comment on a case when we’re facing potential litigation.”
Mateo had been on the run since the Feb.7 attack, when, authorities said, eight of the 16 girls living in Cottage 12 at the school for troubled youngsters beat and tortured the counselor for more than an hour. Six of the girls were arrested immediately afterward; a seventh turned herself in the next day.
On Feb. 21, all eight girls were charged with second-degree attempted murder, two counts of first-degree assault, first-degree gang assault and second-degree assault – all felonies – in an indictment handed up by a Westchester grand jury. Mateo pleaded not guilty, like the others, during her arraignment yesterday in County Court.
She was ordered held without bail at the Woodfield Cottage youth facility in Valhalla and is scheduled to return to court March 26. No trial date has been set for the other girls.
Police said the attack began shortly after 11 p.m., when the counselor – the only adult on duty at the time – was beaten with a cell phone. During the next hour, she was kicked down stairs, punched, stomped and strangled with an electrical cord. The girls also allegedly doused the woman with alcohol and set her hair on fire, sprayed her with a fire extinguisher and poured bleach on her face. Authorities said the girls also taunted the counselor, and at one point put barrettes in her hair and told her she would look good in a coffin.
The torture ended when the girls spotted an adult walking toward the cottage and fled. The counselor was released from Westchester Medical Center on Feb. 16 after she was treated for burns on her face and shoulders and bruises over her entire body.
Worby, senior partner of Worby Vecchio Edelman, a White Plains law firm, said his client “is physically and emotionally scarred, but she’s a woman of great courage, and she wants to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
He said the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Journal News, “is working on getting her life back together,” and plans to return to work in the counseling field.
The court discovery order requires the JCCA to provide the names and addresses of all security companies and guards on duty that night as well as information on companies providing telephone service or performing repairs at the campus. The order also compels the JCCA to allow the law firm to take depositions from employees.
The court order was obtained “to ascertain who is legally responsible for the attack,” Worby said.
Mateo and 15-year-olds Latoya Barcliff, Mary Brown, Angenika Carter, Nicole Infante and Crystal Silva all face up to 10 years in state prison if convicted of the top count in the indictment. Takiya Miller and Lidia Orellana, both 16, could be sentenced to 25 years.
The attack, the subsequent arrest of four teen-age boys accused of trying to sodomize a Cottage School classmate with a cucumber on Feb.4, and news of several other incidents at the school sent shock waves all the way to Albany. While the JCCA scrambled to hire a security consultant, state Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, chairman of the Senate Investigations Committee, launched a statewide investigation of residential treatment facilities.