NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - Four workers at a group home allegedly encouraged a person with developmental disabilities to attack another disabled person on Long Island, prosecutors said.
As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, prosecutors called it a disturbing abuse of their position for group home workers who were supposed to be taking care of disabled residents instead of taking advantage of them.
Erin McHenry of Brookhaven, Justin McDonald of Lindenhurst, Stephen Komara of East Moriches and Rosemary Vanni of Eastport face felony charges of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, prosecutors said.
"These defendants encouraged two developmentally disabled adults to participate in, what I said on record, is a developmentally disabled fight club," said special prosecutor Jacqueline Kagan, of the New York State Justice Center for Protection of People with Special Needs.
Kagan said one group home worker shot cell phone video while three others raucously laughed, as they encouraged two severely disabled men to fight.
"They encouraged them to strike each other – one knocking over the other in the wheelchair – and then rewarding them with praise," Kagan said.
The disabled men – in their 50s but with the mental capacity of preschoolers – were residents of the Independent Group Home Living program in Hampton Bays.
The four defendants have been charged with endangering the welfare of a disabled person, and have been fired from their jobs.
"These arrests should serve as a warning that the Justice Center and the District Attorneys of this state will not hesitate to prosecute behavior that violates, endangers or causes injuries to vulnerable New Yorkers," Special Prosecutor Patricia Gunning said. "We commend the efforts of the Southampton Police detectives who investigated this incident. This is an example of the close collaboration we seek to achieve with dedicated local law enforcement professionals across the state to ensure that justice will be served."
Patrick Stark, who has two developmentally disabled children, came to court Thursday to say four bad apples do not represent the caring people who work at the facility. But he had no sympathy for those who were allegedly responsible for the incident.
"I don't know what the world is coming to – but the fact that they did that, and thought it was funny?" Stark said. "It wouldn't be so funny if they were the ones on the other end of the fist."
The case came to light after one of the workers allegedly e-mailed the cellphone video to someone else, who reported the case to the state's brand new Justice Center Hotline. The hotline was created to protect the rights of people with special needs.
"They're severely mentally disabled, and these individuals are there to protect them, not be entertained by them," Kagan said.
Bail was set at $10,000 for McHenry, McDonald and Komara.
Vanni failed to appear in court Thursday, and was arrested on a bench warrant for that offense at 3:20 p.m., Southampton Town police said. She will be held overnight and will appear in court on Friday.
Vanni also faces two felony counts of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, officials said.
The charges against the defendants are felonies, and all four could face prison time if convicted.
IGHL chief executive Walter Stockton says that on the advice of his lawyer he's not commenting.
The New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs hotline operates 24 hours a day to report abuse. You can reach them at 1-855-373-2122. You can also check out their website by clicking here.
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