News 12/Newsday report: 4 Hispanic men fight MS-13 accusation

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BELLPORT -

An attorney for four young Hispanic men in Suffolk say his clients are being falsely accused of being members of MS-13.

Three of the men are students at Bellport High School and have been suspended through November. He says a fourth former student was also wrongly labeled an MS-13 member by the Suffolk County Police Department.

MORE AT NEWSDAYLawyer: Students at Bellport High wrongly accused of MS-13 ties

"No one is saying that MS-13 isn't a threat. No one is saying there shouldn't be robust and aggressive tactics to go after actual gang members. The problem is we're having a spillover," says attorney Peter Brill. 

Bellport High School was recently rattled by the gang murders of two students after 18-year old Jorge Tigre and 16-year old Justin Llivicura were among four young men believed to be killed by MS-13 in a Central Islip Park.

Brill says the South Country School District officials are "overreacting" by suspending the students who he says have no criminal history and are not in a gang. He says one of the students was suspended because he wore a Chicago Bulls T-shirt to school. 

"He was told that the school had previously announced that Chicago Bulls emblems were MS-13 gang symbols and he was suspended," says Brill. He says his client was out of clean clothes and had to borrow the shirt from his father. 

He says the other students were suspended after they were caught "flipping the bird" to each other. Brill says a school administrator misidentified it as a gang symbol and brought it to the attention of the school resource officers. 

"There's a very big concern that these kids, who have done nothing wrong, are going to wind up deported because they're tarred with the same brush as actual gang members," says Brill. 

In a statement, the South Country School superintendent said, "Due to federal law, the district cannot comment on the specific students." 

The statement goes on to say "the District vigorously denies any such allegations" that it is engaging in what Brill called a "pattern of discrimination." 

A spokesman for the Suffolk police wouldn't comment on the specific criteria the department uses to label someone a gang member. He said their lists are "reviewed and refreshed regularly."

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