As Abel Cedeno was leaving Bronx Criminal Court on March 6 with his family and a police escort, he was threatened by Kevon Dennis, 18, the brother of Matthew McCree, whom Cedeno fatally stabbed in their Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation classroom last September while, he has said, defending himself against pummeling by McCree and Ariane Laboy, a friend of McCree’s who got slashed by Cedeno in the incident.
Cedeno’s older brother, José Ortiz, saw a young black male “pull his pants up like he is going to hit someone.” As court officers got between the male and Cedeno, Ortiz heard the male say, “I don’t give a fuck, I’m gonna fuck him up.”
“One of state police pushed him out of the way,” Ortiz said. “Two or three court police held him down. Two other court police told us to get out. If there was no one there, he could have hit Abel.”
The court officers’ report says that Dennis shouted, “I could have gotten him!”
Dennis was given a summons for disorderly conduct returnable on May 22. His attorney, Andrew Rendeiro, who works from the same address as McCree family attorney Sanford Rubenstein, said his client “denies making threats” — though the eyewitness testimony from Cedeno’s brother and the arresting officers say otherwise.
It has emerged that Kevon Dennis was also arrested on September 27 — the same day as the school melee that ended in the death of his brother, McCree — on a string of charges, the most serious of which is a B felony for first-degree robbery using a dangerous instrument.
Cedeno co-defense counsel Christopher R. Lynn argued that Dennis’ September 27 arrest “has to be related” to the death of his brother and may have involved trying to seize evidence from one of the 25 classroom witnesses to the incident. Based on Dennis’ arrest for threatening Cedeno, Lynn has asked the Bronx district attorney to bar him from the courthouse for the remainder of Cedeno’s trial on manslaughter charges in McCree’s death. Patrice O’Shaughnessy, spokesperson for the Bronx DA’s office, said Lynn’s request would have to be addressed before the judge at Cedeno’s next court date on April 23.
Lynn is also concerned about how District Attorney Darcel Clark’s series of meetings with McCree’s family and their attorney, Rubenstein, might affect how the charges against Dennis are treated.
McCree’s mother, Louna Dennis, is suing the city for $25 million and was accompanied by Rubenstein at court.
Lynn said, “Outside the building when I alerted reporters that Kevon was arrested, they asked Ms. Dennis and Rubenstein for a comment. The mother denied it and Rubenstein said he was detained ‘for exercising his First Amendment rights.’”
Dennis told reporters she was not a witness to the assault attempt by her son Kevon.
“We don’t know what happened,” she said. “Abel is not worth the energy.”
Oddly, the New York Post ran a whole story about the incident without identifying the arrestee by name and referring to him as “a pal” of McCree’s rather than his brother.
Louna Dennis once again lashed out at Cedeno’s two defense attorneys, who have been asserting their client knew her son McCree and Laboy to be gang members, leading him to fear for his life when they attacked him.
“I know who my son was,” she said. “He was not a gang member or a bully.”
She made the comment after being shown a picture by a reporter of Laboy displaying gang colors.
Lynn says that his investigator has evidence that McCree and Laboy were recruited into the 800 YGZ gang by McCree’s older brother.
Based on confidential records from the Department of Education that are illegal to release, the Daily News reported on February 20 about a May 2014 memo that had been presented to the grand jury that said Cedeno’s mother had told the school that she once discovered a knife in her son’s backpack. Louna Dennis told the Daily News she was “anonymously leaked” the records.
Rubenstein, who is doing his best to try this case in the press, told the Daily News the revelation “shows that the school and the Department of Education was on notice and knew a danger existed” from Cedeno. But Lynn said the knife was a butter knife and there are no reports that Cedeno ever brandished it or any other weapon prior to the incident in September 2017.
Rubenstein was peppered with questions from reporters about how the confidential report was obtained and whether he had anything to do with it. He kept saying, “Ask the Daily News.”
Lynn filed multiple complaints for disciplinary infractions by Rubenstein about the emergence of the confidential DOE records with the New York State Appellate Division’s Second Department, where Rubenstein is admitted to practice law. The Second Department, however, has declined to pursue them.
Lynn also filed his complaint with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
“It was a knowing violation to release confidential materials from the DOE,” Lynn said.
Asked if she was aware of students, including her son, ever carrying weapons, Dennis said, “There should be no knives in school!”
On March 8, the Post reported, “More kids were busted for knives and boxcutters in the fourth quarter of last year than in any quarter over the past two years, according to NYPD statistics.”
In New York’s less safe neighborhoods, students have been carrying knives for self-protection for decades if not longer. When metal detectors are installed, the students stash the knives outside during the day and retrieve them to protect themselves going home from school.
Lynn said police had Cedeno take off all of his clothes after September’s stabbing incident and that forensic analysis showed no blood on them, “confirming the autopsy that McCree succumbed to a single blow from the knife.”
While a cellphone video of the incident emerged last month showing McCree charging Cedeno and hitting him about the face before getting stabbed, Rubenstein responded that a longer version of the video shows Cedeno charging into the classroom before the stabbing. But Lynn said there is yet newer video of Cedeno in the hallway before the incident that confirms his client’s statements to the grand jury and press that he had left the class after being harassed and walked back into the room slowly to demand who was harassing him.
According to a police summary of one student witness’ statement, McCree responded to Cedeno, “It was me. What’s up?” — meaning “What are you going to do about it?” — before charging across the classroom at Cedeno, who said he feared for his life based on knowing McCree to be a gang member who had beaten up a friend of his and might possess a weapon himself. An autopsy of McCree showed multiple bruises on his hands from the blows delivered to Cedeno.
“I snapped,” Cedeno said previously. “I thought I was going to die.”
Cedeno’s two hours of testimony to the grand jury contributed to the charges against him being reduced from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
Cedeno is suing the city for its failure to enforce the anti-bullying laws and to protect LGBTQ students — not seeking punitive damages but instead stepped-up enforcement. In his suit on behalf of McCree’s mother, Rubenstein cites the lax enforcement of the state’s Dignity for All Students Act anti-bullying mandates and focuses on the lack of metal detectors in McCree’s school.
Most advocates for students oppose metal detectors.
The Post reported on March 10 that in December 2016, a 14-year-old girl at Cedeno’s school was being bullied in a manner similar to him and that after “other students beaned her with a corncob and called her a ‘fat bitch,’ [she] was handcuffed and tackled by school safety officers, who sat on the asthmatic girl as she yelled, ‘I can’t breathe.’” In a lawsuit against the Department of Education and others, the girl alleges she was tasered twice and when her mother arrived and asked that her daughter’s handcuffs be loosened because her hands were turning purple, the mother was pushed to the ground by police. The girl also says her cousin was thrown against a wall by police when the cousin tried to come to her aid.
Inside the Bronx court on March 6, Judge Armando Montano rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Cedeno —something not unexpected — and set the start of his trial for April 23.
Cedeno’s lawyers, Lynn and Robert J. Feldman, made the motion to dismiss based on what they called a “faulty presentation to the grand jury.” Their other motions — related to suppression of evidence and whether Cedeno’s cell phone was searched without a warrant — will be dealt with by the trial judge. Nancy Borko, the assistant district attorney handling the prosecution, said Cedeno gave verbal consent to his phone being searched.
Lynn said, “We just hired a forensic psychiatrist who is reviewing Abel’s videotaped confession and prior treatment record for depression since 14, and I am sure the People will want to hire their own expert to review my expert’s work.”
Cedeno, who is out on bail and living at an undisclosed location because of death threats against him allegedly from those associated with McCree and Laboy, was surrounded by police and court officers — as well as family members — as he entered and exited the courthouse, though that precaution barely prevented further tragedy in this case.
Cedeno’s mother, Luz Hernandez, said, “It’s hard for a mother. I have to be strong for him and my other kids.”