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Congressman Says State Agency Fails To Protect People With Special Needs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A United States congressman says a New York state agency that's supposed to protect people with special needs is failing in that mission.

Raymond Berrios, who is on the autism spectrum, says a caregiver in his group home jumped on him. (Credit: CBS2)

Raymond Berrios is on the autism spectrum, but he was able to explain how his neck was injured. He says a caregiver in his group home jumped on him.

"He also went on top of him and covered his mouth and did some kind of pressure that he screamed," Maureen Berrios, Raymond's mother, said.

There are more alleged problems, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reports.

"Neglect, failure to provide nutrition..." Christopher Shisko, the Berrios family's attorney, said. "There are terrible, terrible allegations of sexual abuse."

This story is not unique.

The family of Joseph Barouch says a group home worker forced him to walk on a treadmill naked. (Credit: CBS2)

Maria Barouch says her son Joseph was forced by a group home worker to walk a treadmill naked.

"Joseph fell flat, face-front, on the treadmill. He has red marks, burn marks ... and he fractured his neck," she said.

A worker has been charged, but the family says he never should have been hired due to a history of abuse complaints.

Relatives of those with special needs gathered Tuesday with a litany of allegations of patient abuse and neglect in New York group homes overseen by the NYS Justice Center.

The center was created six years ago by New York state to restore trust in the institutions that care for people with special needs, but since then, families say their allegations still are not properly investigated. That's why they're turning to the federal government.

"There are New Yorkers who are suffering not only from physical abuse, malnutrition, emotional abuse, but it has included death," Congressman Lee Zeldin said.

Zeldin says the center fails to protect New Yorkers with special needs. He's calling for reforms including better training for group home workers, better background checks and the power to prosecute.

Right now, the center only refers cases to local district attorneys.

"There's no system in place. When one person is fired with abuse allegations from one agency, when they go to another agency," said Suzanne Reek, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk Autism Society.

Zeldin is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a massive gap in accountability.

Christine Buttigieg, a spokeswoman for the NYS Justice Center, released the following statement:

"Every allegation of abuse and neglect reported to the Justice Center is thoroughly investigated to conclusion. Every allegation is also referred to the local District Attorney for an independent review. Any individual or provider found responsible is held accountable to the highest degree the law allows.

The Justice Center has spoken to Representative Zeldin's staff and has, on numerous occasions, offered to meet with him directly to address his concerns. It is unfortunate the Congressman seems more interested in grabbing headlines and attention than directly engaging with the agency he voted to create."

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