Four workers from the Independent Group Home Living facility in Hampton Bays, New York were arrested in February 2014 for allegedly forcing and encouraging two developmentally disabled adults to fight each other. One of the workers recorded the incident with a cellphone, which shows the two disabled men fighting as workers encourage them and laugh in the background. The four workers, who have since been fired from the group home, faced felony charges of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person. If convicted, the workers could face jail time. The defendants are Erin McHenry, 28, of Brookhaven, Justin McDonald, 19, of Lindenhurst, Stephen Komara, 58, of East Moriches and Rosemary Vanni, 44, of Eastport.
The incident was brought to the attention of authorities after one of the workers emailed the cellphone video to someone who then called New York’s Justice Center Hotline, which was recently created to protect people with special needs. The video, which shows to developmentally disabled men in their 50s being encouraged by workers to fight each other, was then turned over to the Southampton Police Department, which then launched an investigation into the video. According to authorities, although the men fighting in the video are adults, they have the mental capacities of young children.
Jacqueline Kagen, special prosecutor of the New York State Justice Center for Protection of People with Special Needs, said, “These defendants encouraged two developmentally disabled adults to participate in, what I said on record, is a developmentally disabled fight club.” Kagen continued, “They encouraged them to strike each other–one knocking over the other in the wheelchair–and then rewarding them with praise.”
Special Prosecutor Patricia Gunning also commented on the charges brought against the four workers. She said, “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. We commend the efforts of the Southampton Police detectives who investigated this incident. This is an example of the close collaboration we week to achieve with dedicated local law enforcement professionals across the state to ensure that justice will be served.”
Bail for McHenry, McDonald and Komara was set at $10,000. Vanni failed to appear in court. However, she was later arrested on a bench warrant. Vanni faces two felony counts of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.
Walter Stockton, chief executive of the Independent Group Home Living facility, which also has several other locations, declined to comment on the arrests.