Mom of slain cheerleader files wrongful death lawsuit against daughter’s boyfriend, Trinity University

Lawsuit seeks damages ‘at the maximum rate allowed by law.’

SAN ANTONIO – The mother of slain Trinity University student Cayley Mandadi has filed a lawsuit against the man accused of her death and the school for failing to intervene and prevent it.

The civil lawsuit, filed Monday by Alison Steele on behalf of Mandadi’s estate, alleges that Mark Howerton, Mandadi’s boyfriend, sexually and physically assaulted her “multiple times” over the course of their relationship and ultimately caused her death in 2017 by drugging and assaulting her.

Mandadi died in October 2017 during a trip to Houston with Howerton. Howerton was charged with murder, sexual assault and kidnapping but a judge declared a mistrial in 2019 when a jury failed to reach a verdict. The case is scheduled to be retried in August.

The new civil lawsuit also alleges that that Mandadi’s death was preventable, claiming that Trinity University failed to respond to multiple reports of stalking, abuse, intimidation and domestic violence and accuses the school of gender-based discrimination. The suit seeks at least $1 million in damages.

Mandadi was a sophomore at the private San Antonio university at the time of her death. She was on the cheerleading squad, in a sorority and actively involved in campus life, according to the lawsuit.

Howerton was not a student at Trinity, but was friends with members of the football team and frequently fraternized with the school’s athletes.

The lawsuit alleges that “Mandadi was physically and sexually abused multiple times throughout the weeks that Howerton claimed to be dating her, with Howerton once pulling a gun from his car’s glove compartment threatening to shoot members of the football team who were considering intervening on her behalf. Howerton was also seen physically abusing Ms. Mandadi in her dorm room on campus in one of his fits of rage.”

The lawsuit claims that Howerton “destroyed” Mandadi’s dorm room when she went out “against his wishes,” breaking the glass door on her balcony and throwing her clothes and possessions outside.

Steele alleges that both Trinity resident assistants and on-campus police responded and knew about Howerton’s threats to cause bodily harm to her daughter but let Howerton go “after a cursory discussion.”

Steele says Howerton took Mandadi’s backpack from her dorm room, destroyed her computer, threw her cheerleading gear into the street and threatened Mandadi’s life in front of members of the Trinity football team.

In the lawsuit, Steele claims that Trinity punished her daughter instead of Howerton by instituting disciplinary charges against Mandadi for the damage to her dorm room.

“Even though she was clearly the victim of stalking, harassment, domestic violence and intimidation, the only thing Trinity cared about was money and therefore held Ms. Mandadi responsible for the attack and resulting property damage to her dorm. In violation of its duties and its own policies, Trinity University did nothing to inform or notify Ms. Mandadi’s parents of her plight or its intention to blame Ms. Mandadi by holding her responsible for the damage done by Mark Howerton,” the lawsuit states.

Though Howerton was instructed to stay off-campus, the lawsuit alleges that the school’s surveillance system caught Howerton at Mandadi’s dorm six times in the days leading up to her death.

Howerton and Mandadi attended the Mala Luna music festival together on Oct. 29, 2017.

The lawsuit alleges that Howerton raped, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, beat, and killed Mandadi. He drove her to a hospital in Luling where she was pronounced dead.

Howerton told investigators that the couple stopped to have consensual rough sex when Mandadi stopped breathing. His defense attorneys said Mandadi had the drug MDMA in her system, which increased her blood pressure, and suggested that Mandadi could have fallen and hit her head.

Medical experts testified that the teen died as the result of blunt force trauma to the head.

Steele’s lawsuit accuses Trinity University of “negligence” and “deliberate indifference” for failing to disclose, warn and respond to dating violence on campus.

“A large part of Howerton’s ongoing stalking and harassment of Ms. Mandadi occurred on campus and in Ms. Mandadi’s dormitory, which was subject to the control and authority of Trinity’s housing program and campus police. Howerton’s threats, and his abuse of Cayley Mandadi was known to Trinity’s students, resident advisors, campus police, and administrators, but Trinity took no action. Instead of taking action to protect Ms. Mandadi as it promises to do in its policies, Trinity University chose instead to blame her – the victim - and institute disciplinary charges against Ms. Mandadi for Mr. Howerton’s acts,” the lawsuit states.

Steele alleges that Trinity’s inaction made Mandadi vulnerable and ultimately resulted in her death and accuses Howerton of assault, sexual assault, and rape and for intentionally inflicting of emotional distress. It alleges that Howerton “refused to provide her with medical assistance until it was too late to save her life.”

The lawsuit demands a jury trial and seeks monetary compensation “at the maximum rate allowed by law.”

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About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.