NEW YORK (PIX11)—The parents of Jawara Henry, 27, tearfully praised the Richmond County District Attorney's office for bringing charges against Erik Stanley, 37, of Middletown, N.J in Henry's death last year. The family also announced plans to file a civil lawsuit against the state-run institution where their autistic son died. Henry died while being subdued by workers at the South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island.
Stanley surrendered to police Wednesday morning and was arraigned in State Supreme Court, St. George, on charges of criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person for Henry's death on Dec. 4, 2010. Stanley pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.
Courtney and Sharon Rowe of Staten Island, who held a press conference announcing their lawsuit, explain their son was highly non-functioning and could not speak since he was a child. Henry was a patient and Stanley was a developmental aide supervisor at a multi-diagnostic facility operated by Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Service Office, division of the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, located on the grounds of South Beach Psychiatric Center, according to prosecutors. His parents insist they placed him in the facility after Sharon, a health care aide, and stepfather, Courtney could not care for him anymore.
"I'm happy that somebody is going to pay for my son's death," Sharon Rowe said.
An eight-month investigation by Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan included reviews of medical and forensic evidence and interviews with eyewitnesses and found that Stanley did not follow protocol nor use proper techniques while trying to restrain Henry. An indictment against Stanley claims he caused Henry's death by using excessive pressure on Henry's neck and torso. At the time, Henry was agitated and aggressive and was biting staff and other patients at the facility.
The New York City Medical Examiner concluded Henry died of asphyxia by neck and chest compression, according to the Donovan's office.
The Rowe's attorney, Gary Douglas from Douglas & London, P.C. in Manhattan, believes others knew of ongoing problems concerning Henry. Sharon Rowe describes three incidents including what she believed was a burn on his leg and a cut on the head that were allegedly dismissed by employees of the facility when the parents complained during the year their son was housed at the psychiatric center.
"I was always on top of it but they didn't even send me a report until after my son was dead," Sharon Rowe said.
"This is systematic. This has to do with how our state is using our tax dollars to purportedly help people," Douglas added.
The Rowe family hopes their upcoming lawsuit will shed light on a problem they feel is rampant at the facility and warn other parents of special needs children to be vigilant.
"I think the state has to do a better job of supervising people that take care of these people because these are special people that have special needs. And you got to have compassionate people to take care of them. I think the system really failed Jawara," Courtney Rowe said.