By Kathryn G. Menu
Four direct care workers, employed by Independent Group Home Living Program, Inc., were arraigned last week on felony charges for allegedly watching and encouraging an individual with developmental disabilities in their care attack another individual with disabilities.
Erin McHenry, 28, of Brookhaven, Justin McDonald, 19, of Lindenhurst and Stephen Komara, 58, of East Moriches were charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person in the first degree, a class E felony. They were arraigned Thursday, February 6, with bail set at $10,000 each. Rosemary Vanni, 44, of Eastport was arraigned on the same charge in connection with the incident on Friday and was released on $10,000 bail.
All four defendants were fired from their positions with Independent Group Home Living Program, Inc.
The incident occurred at an Independent Group Home Living Program, Inc. facility in Southampton Town, according to a press release issued by the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
According to police, the incident first came to the attention of law enforcement officials when it was reported to the Justice Center’s Vulnerable Persons Central Register hotline. The Southampton Town Police Department then began a criminal investigation and made arrests in connection with a cell phone video recording the incident. According to the NYS Justice Center, in the video all four defendants are either seen or heard laughing as the attack transpired.
“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,” said NYS Justice Center Special Prosecutor Patricia E. Gunning. “We commend the efforts of the Southampton Police detectives who investigated this incident.”
On Friday, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Ken LaValle released a statement about the alleged crime.
“We need to do everything we can to protect the individuals that make up our most vulnerable populations,” they said in a joint statement. “Presently, there are rigid standards in place for the hiring of workers in these occupations, and a number of laws in place to regulate conduct, but we need to assure that actions like this don’t fall in between the cracks. We will conduct a thorough review of existing laws and penalties focused on strengthening them and speeding up the legal process. Over the years, we have taken steps to protect people, and we will continue to do everything we can. The type of behavior illustrated in these actions will not be tolerated.”