Two former Long Island group home workers have been found guilty of endangering developmentally-disabled residents after state prosecutors argued they had encouraged a “fight club” for their own amusement.
Erin McHenry, 30, of Brookhaven, was convicted Tuesday of two felony counts of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, and Stephen Komara, 59, of East Moriches, of two misdemeanor counts in a bench trial by state Supreme Court Justice William Condon in Riverhead.
They were among four workers fired by the Independent Group Home Living Program in Speonk after cellphone video taken by one of them showed a fight between two men in their 50s, whose mental capacities were described as that of toddlers.
To “raucous laughter” by the workers, 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, prosecutors said.
The residents were not injured in the fight, which occurred in fall 2013, according to the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which prosecuted the case.
McHenry’s attorney, Tor Jacobs Worsoe Jr., said he plans to appeal because his client’s actions may have been “negligent” but did not rise to a felony. 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 return seconds later to step on his fallen housemate.
“No one encouraged anyone to fight,” said Worsoe, of Holtsville.
Komara’s attorney could not immediately comment Wednesday night.
McHenry and Komara are to be sentenced Feb. 22, along with co-defendant Justin McDonald, 21, of Lindenhurst, who recorded the fight and pleaded guilty to two felony counts of endangerment. The fourth former employee, Rosemary Vanni, 46, of Eastport, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 14 on two misdemeanor endangerment counts and disorderly conduct, a violation.
Special Prosecutor Patricia Gunning said in a statement that the message to caregivers is clear: “You will be held accountable not only for exposing residents to physical harm, but for endangering their mental or moral welfare as well.”