RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A former employee at a Suffolk County group home pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to his involvement in what has been called a fight club that encouraged disabled men to beat each other up.
Three other employees accused in the fighting ring pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning.
As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, prosecutors have video of the alleged incident. Jackie Kagan, deputy special prosecutor for the New York State Justice Center, said the video shows the alleged ringleader, Erin McHenry, with her foot on the arm of a wheelchair that had been knocked over and one resident of the Independent Group Home Living program in Hampton Bays stomping on the head of another.
“And this poor gentleman is basically looking around for help,” Kagan said. “And what do you hear on the tape? Raucous laughter. That’s their response.”
McHenry, of Brookhaven; Stephen Komara, of East Moriches; and Rosemary Vanni, of Eastport, face felony charges of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, prosecutors said.
The fourth — Justin McDonald, of Lindenhurst — pleaded guilty to the same charge, CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
McDonald admitted to shooting the cell phone video while McHenry allegedly instigated the fight. He faces 90 days in jail when he’s sentenced.
McHenry’s attorney, Tor Jacob Worsoh, denied the allegations against his client.
“There was no fight club that occurred,” he told Hall. “And unfortunately, my client is being accused of being a ringleader.
“When the film comes out, it’ll show that my client actually caught the wheelchair as it fell, stopping it from crashing to the ground,” he added. “She’s not what they’re portraying her to be at this point.”
Vanni’s attorney told Gusoff his client was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“She was a dutiful worker who worked with the disabled for many years and happened to be in the house that night,” said defense attorney Daniel Rogers.
Komara’s attorney took aim at the government’s case against her client.
“I think the conduct of the New York state Justice Center has been shameful,” said defense attorney Eileen Powers. “They have a lack of cases to make and they are trying to make a celebrity case on the backs of people like my client.”
The case came to light through a tip to the state’s new Justice Center Hotline, created to protect the rights of people with special needs.
The four defendants have been fired from their jobs.
The Justice Center for the protection of people with special needs has a 24-hour hotline to report abuse: 1-855-373-2122.
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