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3 group home workers sentenced for encouraging ‘fight club’

Stephen Komara of East Moriches, Justin McDonald of

Stephen Komara of East Moriches, Justin McDonald of Lindenhurst, and Erin McHenry of Brookhaven, who all worked at one of many facilities run by Independent Group Home Living Program, were sentenced Monday, Feb. 22, 2016 for encouraging two disabled men to fight. Credit: Southampton Police

Three former employees of a Long Island group home were sentenced Monday to several years of probation for endangering two disabled men by encouraging what prosecutors called a “fight club.”

State Supreme Court Justice William Condon sentenced Erin McHenry, 30, of Brookhaven, to 5 years of probation and 840 hours of community service; Justin McDonald, 21, of Lindenhurst, to 5 years of probation; and Stephen Komara, 60, of East Moriches, to 3 years of probation and 280 hours of community service.

They were among four workers fired by the Independent Group Home Living Program in Speonk after cellphone video taken by McDonald showed a 2013 fight between two men in their 50s, whose mental capacities were described as that of toddlers.

In the video, one man shoved a wheelchair-bound resident to the ground, and McHenry, holding the wheelchair down, encouraged the man to attack the fallen resident and also gave a double high five as praise for the knockdown, said the state Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which tried the case. The residents were not injured, authorities said.

“These staff members jeopardized the safety of these men and violated their dignity by encouraging one to attack the other,” said Special Prosecutor Patricia E. Gunning. “Then, while laughing uproariously, the staff left one of the individuals on the floor without offering aid.”

McHenry’s attorney, Tor Jacob Worsoe Jr. of Holtsville, said he and his client may appeal the conviction.

He said the residents were angry at each other, and when one tipped over the other’s wheelchair, McHenry grabbed it and did not know the first man would later step on his fallen housemate.

McHenry used “poor judgment” but did not “knowingly” put the men in danger, a requirement for a felony conviction in this case, Worsoe said: “There was no malicious action on anyone’s part.”

In a bench trial in December, Condon found McHenry guilty of two felony counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person and Komara of two misdemeanor counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.

McDonald, who was sentenced as a youthful offender because he was a teenager at the time, had pleaded guilty to two felony counts of endangerment.

In December, the fourth defendant, Rosemary Vanni, 46, of Eastport, was placed on interim probation for 1 year after she pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor endangerment counts and disorderly conduct, a violation.

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