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Cahokia student's mother denies allegations against her daughter in classmate's assault suit

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Mar 8, 2016


The mother of a Cahokia 7th grade girl claims her daughter was just reacting to a boy putting his finger in her face when she allegedly broke his finger by twisting it.

Jershaun Neal, by and through his mother and natural guardian Leheshia West-Neal, filed the lawsuit on Sept. 17 against Makayla Wells, JoAnn Watson, Mississippi Valley Insurance Cooperative and the Board of Education for Cahokia Unity School District No. 187.

According to the complaint, Neal and Wells were students in class at Wirth 7th Grade Academy School in Cahokia when Wells allegedly grabbed, twisted and bent Neal’s left index finger on Oct. 7, 2014. As a result, Neal allegedly sustained a fracture and had to have surgery.

The plaintiffs claim the minor boy did not provoke or consent to Wells’ behavior.

The plaintiffs allege the school district showed a conscious disregard for the safety of others as they failed to properly supervise Wells when they knew she suffered from behavioral problems and had acted violently toward other students in the past.

Watson, Wells’ mother, is named a defendant in the suit for failing to supervise her daughter when she allegedly knew she had a propensity to assault or be physical with fellow students. The suit alleges Watson could have placed Wells in an alternate school or home-schooled her and could have obtained medical and psychological treatment for her daughter to ensure she wouldn’t cause harm to others.

The plaintiffs allege Mississippi Valley failed to pay the plaintiffs medical payment coverage benefits for the medical expenses. The Neals seek damages of more than $50,000.

Mississippi Valley filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on Oct. 16 through James Clayborne Jr. of Clayborne Sabo & Wagner in Belleville. The defendant argues that the plaintiffs failed to attach a copy of the insurance policy.

Mississippi Valley also alleges the plaintiffs failed to show the defendant had a contractual obligation to the plaintiffs, and they failed to provide sufficient facts that state an actual contract existed with specific terms.

The Board of Education answered the complaint on Oct. 16 through Clayborne, denying liability and asserting 11 affirmative defenses against the plaintiffs.

The defendant claims the allegations in the complaint do not rise to the level of willful and wanton acts.

The defendant also alleges immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.

The plaintiffs replied on Jan. 19, denying the allegations raised in the affirmative defenses.

On Nov. 23, the Board of Education filed a motion for entry of agreed protective order to “assure the protection of proprietary or confidential documents that may be produced in this litigation.”

The parties explain that the information and documents the plaintiffs may seek to discover involve students at the Cahokia school, which are minor children, so they wish for the information to remain confidential.

Watson filed a handwritten answer to the complaint on Dec. 9. She claims the school principal called and said the two children were playing and Neal stuck his finger in Wells’ face. Wells responded by grabbing his finger and twisting it.

She claims she was told that her daughter would not be punished because it was an accident, but she was called again later that day and was told Wells would be suspended for one day.

Watson alleges she never heard anything else on the matter for almost a year until she received papers in the mail.

“I don’t agree with amount that they are sue for I don’t agree with what they are saying about her [sic],” the answer states.

On Jan. 19, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a more definite answer from Watson.

“The ‘answer’ does not specifically deny the separate allegations set forth in Plaintiffs’ complaint, even though it does indicate that she does not agree with the amount of damages prayed for, and even though she does not agree with ‘what they are saying about her’ daughter.

“This answer, as drafted, prevents the Plaintiffs from understanding what allegations she actually does agree with.

“In addition, it cannot be ascertained from reading the document as to whether defendant, Watson, is responded on behalf of herself, her daughter, or both,” the motion states.

West-Neal answered the defendant’s first request for admissions on Feb. 8 through attorney Marc Weinberg of Goldenhersh Law Offices in East St. Louis.

She stated that her son had not previously reported that he feared Wells would cause him physical harm or than he had been bullied or threatened by the girl.

Further, she admitted that she knew her son had assaulted a fellow student prior to his enrollment at Wirth 7th Grade Academy and had been suspended for “violently assaulting another student(s).”

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-528

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