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King joins call for federal probe of Justice center

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Four members of Congress, including Seaford Republican Peter King, have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for an investigation into the New York State agency tasked with ensuring the safety of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

King was joined by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from Shirley, and two other New York Congressman in asking Justice to investigate allegations of abuse involving more than 1 million developmentally disabled, incarcerated youth and mentally ill residents that the state’s own Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs allegedly failed to protect.

The four alleged in their letter that abuses were not adequately or transparently investigated and that investigations were blocked. They pointed to a Nov. 8 Newsday story alleging that the state’s special prosecutor, Patricia Gunning, encountered resistance as she attempted to investigate cases of nonfatal strangulation in various facilities.

In that story, reporters detailed alleged incidences of nonfatal strangulation in homes for those with special needs. In one case at the Highland Residential Center juvenile detention center in Ulster County, Gunning prosecuted a worker who held a resident in a chokehold for 17 seconds before being persuaded to release the youth.

Gunning and her team identified more than 500 such cases across the state in one 10-month period, including one in Smithtown in which a residential home manager assaulted a special needs youth.

Gunning encountered numerous obstacles as she sought to learn the details of those and other assaults. The result was a stalled investigation that left the scope of the problem uncertain, Newsday reported.

The Justice center is the state’s main investigative agency for such facilities. The representatives wrote that “the clear lack of oversight must be fully investigated. They asked that “the appropriate parties be held accountable to ensure these practices cease immediately.”

The letter also alleged that Medicaid dollars were being wasted.

King and Zeldin were joined in singing the letter by Reps. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from Schuylerville, and Tom Reed, a Republican from Corning.