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Feb 26, 2016 10:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Former Group Home Workers Sentenced For Encouraging Fight Between Disabled Men

Mar 1, 2016 3:52 PM

Three coworkers who encouraged two developmentally challenged adults to fight each other at a group home in Southampton Town nearly three years ago, and captured video of the incident with a cellphone, were sentenced this week in Suffolk County Criminal Court.

According to a release from the Justice Center on February 22, Erin McHenry, 30, of Brookhaven was found guilty of two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a felony. Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William Condon sentenced her to five years of probation and 840 hours of community service in place of a six-month jail term.

Ms. McHenry was found to have encouraged the two men—they are in their 50s, but prosecutors said each has the mental capacity of an average 3- to 5-year-old—to fight at an Independent Group Home Living Inc. center in Southampton Town. Police said that during the incident, one of the disabled men grabbed the other man, who uses a wheelchair, by the neck, and then knocked him and his wheelchair to the ground. The first man then stepped on the second man’s head and neck, police said, while being encouraged to do so by Ms. McHenry.

A second defendant, Stephen J. Komara, 60, of East Moriches, was found guilty of two counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 280 hours of community service.

The third defendant, Justin McDonald of Lindenhurst, who was 18 at the time of the incident, was granted youthful offender status, meaning that the felony charge will not appear on his criminal record, and was sentenced to five years of probation. Mr. McDonald had admitted in court that he did nothing to stop the fight between the two men, and he also recorded a video of them fighting.

Special Prosecutor Patricia E. Gunning, who heads the State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, prosecuted the case.

“We are pleased that the defendants in this case have been held accountable,” said Ms. Gunning in the release. “Despite being well-trained and duty-bound to support and protect people with special needs, these staff members jeopardized the safety of these men and violated their dignity by encouraging one to attack the other.”

She continued, “With the assistance of the Southampton Town Police Department and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, we were able to bring these crimes to light and help raise awareness of this type of abuse that … all too often [has] gone unreported.”

A fourth employee, Rosemary Vanni of Eastport, had also been present at the time of the fight. Ms. Vanni is scheduled to be sentenced in October but remains on interim probation for one year. She pleaded guilty in May 2014 to second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor, as well as disorderly conduct, a violation, in October 2015.

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