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Prosecutor: NY group home workers forced developmentally disabled to fight

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Four workers at a Long Island group home have been arrested and now face criminal charges for allegedly encouraging developmentally disabled clients under their care to fight and laughing while it happened, state officials said Feb. 6.

Southampton Town Police arrested Erin McHenry, 28, of Brookhaven; Justin McDonald, 19, of Lindenhurst; and Stephen Komara, 58, of East Moriches. A fourth worker – Rosemary Vanni, 44, of Eastport – skipped court Thursday and was arrested after a judge issued a bench warrant, police said.

The four direct care workers were each charged with two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person and, if convicted, could face up to four years in prison.

Prosecutors said the criminal investigation was prompted after a tipster called a state reporting hotline. The case was later referred to Southampton Town Police, who discovered “disturbing cell phone video” of the incident, that allegedly shows the four workers laughing during the attack at the Independent Group Home Living Program in Hampton Bays, authorities 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,” said Patricia E. Gunning, a special prosecutor with the state's Justice Center.

In a statement, the nonprofit organization that operates the group home said they were “outraged and offended by these alleged acts,” noting the four aides have been terminated and that the organization has been cooperating with law enforcement.

“IGHL has a zero tolerance policy regarding these types of activies. We thoroughly screen potential employees, train our staff about abuse prevention and encourage the reporting of suspected mistreatment.”

At their arraignments in the Southampton Town Justice Court on Thursday, a judge set McHenry, McDonald and Komara's bail at $10,000 each. Records show Komara has since bonded out of the Suffolk County Jail, while McHenry and McDonald remain behind bars, as of late Thursday.

Police said Vanni was arrested on the bench warrant Thursday afternoon and will be held overnight in police custody until her arraignment Friday morning.

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