Decades later, former YDC guard recalls brutal attack by youths

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Sununu Youth Services Center. File Photo

RELATED STORY ⇒ YDC lawsuit: Guards targeted co-worker for rape then retaliated against youth who warned her


MANCHESTER, NH – Youth counselor Rachel Roe hesitated in unlocking the door to a room where three older teens were being held at the Youth Development Center.

It was 1991 and earlier that year, there had been a disciplinary hearing for a co-worker who allegedly plotted with others to have a group of youths assault and rape her.  They wanted to silence her because she repeatedly complained to administrators about their abusive treatment of the children. The planned assault didn’t happen, Roe said, because two younger boys warned her about the guards’ scheme.

So that night, Roe paused at the boys’ door because she sensed something wasn’t right.  The situation was odd because the teens were not in their assigned building but in hers and on her watch.

And the room they were in was not normally used and not big enough to accommodate three teens. Roe, believing the boys had to use the restroom, didn’t follow her instincts and instead unlocked the door.

When she did, the largest of the three – a six-foot, 200-pound boy – attacked her.  The two other teens grabbed at her and as they did, she heard the door to the break room slam closed.  Her co-worker, who had been behind her, allegedly had left her on her own and was nowhere to be seen as she screamed and fought back.

At the time, Roe was 34 years old, 5-foof-4 and weighed 105 pounds.  She had taken self-defense courses and she fought back as her primary assailant slammed her into the concrete wall. 

“They weren’t expecting that,” she said. The other two youths then tried to drag her out of the emergency exit door.

As she was screaming, trying to get the attention of any other staff member on the YDC campus, she heard the boys on the tiers yelling, “Let her go.  Let her go.” Others, fewer in number, yelled, “Kill her. Kill her.”

Eventually, other employees heard her screams and came to her aid, ending the attack. 

She was seriously injured in the assault:  Four of her teeth were knocked out, including two molars, her nose was broken, she had two black eyes and she suffered neck and hip injuries.

Roe, a mother separated from her husband, needed the job and returned to work, her eyes still blackened.  Within months, she ultimately left the career she loved. 

 Roe, now 64, remembers what happened that night as if it were yesterday even though more than three decades have passed.

Roe asked Manchester Ink Link to protect her privacy and not publish her name.  In a conference call with her attorney, Dave Vicinanzo, Roe, who now lives in remote New England, spoke for more than an hour about her experience working at the YDC from 1989-91.

Previously, Roe had worked in corrections and in prisoner transport along the North Shore of Massachusetts.  She had training in suicide prevention and had worked at a police department.

She said she was hired as a Youth Counselor I but the job was really a guard.

“Keep them in and keep them alive, that’s what I was told,” she said.  “It was quite a shock.  More than once I was told I was a body.”

She described YDC as a violent, brutal and particularly cruel place for the young kids placed there. Guards taunted children on a daily basis, called them derogatory names and encouraged one boy to commit suicide.

One time, she said, she went to hand a juice to a boy other staff believed could not be rehabilitated. A guard knocked it out of her hand.  ”He is just going to kill himself tonight,” the guard told her.  “We’re going to watch a blood bath.”

That was when she filed her first complaint Nothing changed, but she continued to file complaints, hoping someone would listen.

YDC, she said, was a place where guards pitted children against children and rewarded those who did their bidding – known as the “good squad” — with extra privileges and earlier release times. 

 “They would turn the kids against other kids which worked very well,” she said.  “It was cruel and then you would hear the whimpering and crying down the other end (of the tier) because that’s where the younger, smaller kids were all put on the same end of the building.” 

Vicinanzo who, with Attorney Rus Rilee, is representing more than 450 people who alleged they were physically and/or sexually assaulted while a child in state custody, said he has talked with more than 700 witnesses.  

“They (the guards) went out of their way to engender a culture of violence and cruelty.  That’s the way they ran it,” he said.  “Somebody had the bright idea years ago that somehow, you’re going to scare these kids straight, or something by making it as cruel an environment as possible.  All you really were doing was modeling criminal behavior by adults and turning these kids into criminals.

She worked in various buildings at the YDC, but never with the girls, always the boys.   

Kids who didn’t want to shower or get up were “brutally extracted from their rooms,” she said.   They were slammed into steel door frames, she said, and dragged out of the room – sometimes by the hair – by two guards “instead of just talking to them.  They would pick them up bodily and drag them out.  Some of these kids were incredibly tiny, I mean very, very small, fragile kids.”

Those steel doors were weapons, she said.

She said when she tried to intercede, the guard would tell her she didn’t know what happened in the room.  They would say, “He tried to attack the staff. He spit at me, which is a type of assault, he peed in a cup and threw it at me. They were just making up stuff.  None of that stuff was true.  I knew those boys, they might have been scared but they certainly weren’t doing that.”

She said a guard could be 6-feet tall and the child 4-feet.  “Why would you attack him for attacking you, if that happened?” she said.

Her co-workers turned on her, asking her if she was a psychiatrist and blaming her for what had happened.  “They wouldn’t have these problems if you didn’t coddle them,” she said they told her.

Roe worked a four-day week.  She said when she would come back to work after the three-day break, she would see kids with bruises on them.  She’d ask what happened, but rarely would they say.  A nurse, who was very compassionate, tried to get them to tell her what happened but the kids wouldn’t open up, a supervisor would sign off the incident and nothing would happen, she said.

She said when she tried to get a kid to say what happened, he would tell her it would only make things worse.

“They did not want more retaliation,” she said.

 Guards also routinely used solitary confinement as punishment for particularly young children, she said.

It was supposed to be the “protective custody” room, she said, but it was called the “suicide room.”  She said while she was there at least three kids were put in for moths at a time, dressed only in their underwear. Some developed rashes because of infrequent showering.

And anyone in the building could see the child because the room was located at the top of the stairs in the Sanders building and the door had a mesh covering.

“The kid was exposed to everyone 24 hours a day – to every kid going to and from school,” she said. “It was so humiliating and this would go on for months.”

One day, she said, as she was showing some kids how to make cookies, two of the boys leaned in and whispered that some other kids planned to rape her at the guards urging.

She filed a complaint but administrators brushed it off.  Eventually, a disciplinary hearing was held. Employee Bob Oullette, who was the union representative and had union-supplied attorneys representing him, said the plan to assault her was “just a joke,” according to the lawsuit filed by John Doe #441.

Oullette kept his job while Roe was made to sign a “non-disclosure agreement” to keep her job. There was no compensation. Roe, who was not represented by an attorney, was told if she talked about the incident, she would be fired and be in violation of several state laws.

“The reason why this went on so long is because there was a code of silence and they enforced and they misused the juvenile privacy laws to protect kids,” said Vicinanzo.  “The perverse result was the juvenile secrecy laws were used to persecute kids and cover it up and make it worse for the children who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of those laws.  That’s a serious issue.”

Shortly after that disciplinary hearing, Roe was back at work on her night shift when a teen came walking down the hall.  A big kid, he told her that five doors were unlocked.  That puzzled Roe because, she said, she had locked the doors 15 minutes earlier. 

“’Honey,’ I said, ‘get back in your room’ and I walked down the hall with him because I knew he would protect me,” she said.  “I think he was telling me because whatever he was supposed to be doing, he didn’t want to do it.  To this day, if he hadn’t done that, I don’t know what was up.”

All five of the doors that were left unlocked, she said, were to the rooms of the biggest boys in the Spaulding building.

“I believe he genuinely warned me,” she said.  She later talked with him to try to find out what was planned but he wouldn’t say.

Ultimately, she was attacked.  She never found out what happened to the boys who assaulted her.  They were gone from the facility two days later.  She did find out that one of the kids was rewarded with a part-time job at Dunkin’ Donuts.

She never knew, until the lawsuit was filed, that John Doe #441, one of the boys who warned her of the rape plan, had been retaliated against and injured.

“I was never allowed to talk to them (after the disciplinary hearing),” she said.  “It’s bothered me ever since.”

She said she hasn’t seen any of those kids since she left YDC. 

“I would like to thank them for genuinely saving my life,” she said.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About this Author

pat-grossmith

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.