Gay teen suffered sex abuse and humiliation while in state’s care, lawsuit claims

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Entrance to the former Youth Substance Use Disorder Treatment Center, added to the YDC building in 2018. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – A gay teen was sexually molested by both a male and female staffer at the Youth Development Center and, when he confided in the juvenile chaplain that he was gay, he was told he was going to hell, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The plaintiff, identified only as John Doe #402, although his name and date of birth were filed under seal in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District, is among the more than 600 people who allege staffers at state-run and state-contracted facilities physically, mentally and/or physically abused them.  They contend the abuse was systemic, known to authorities and took place for decades and that it is still happening.

Two weeks ago, according to court documents, a handcuffed teen was beaten in his cell at the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called YDC, and wasn’t taken to Catholic Medical Center for treatment until hours later.  He had suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Attorney David A. Vicinanzo said that so far 450 lawsuits have been filed in Merrimack County Superior Court but another 150 to 200 will be heard in Superior Court in Manchester.  He said they are being spread apart so as not to overwhelm one court.

John Doe #402 also is suing facilities where he was placed prior to going to YDC.  Those facilities, contracted by the state, include the Nashua Children’s Home, Mount Prospect Academy of Plymouth, and Jolicoeur School, a/k/a Gammon Academy in Manchester, operated by Easter Seals.

The reality of John Doe #402’s life is that he ended up in the custody of the state because he was trying to get away from the Jolicoeur School after allegedly being sexually abused by an older child.

In his lawsuit, John Doe #402 says that when he was 7, he was molested by an older family member for about three years.  The abuse progressed to him being raped multiple times a week.  His abuser told him to keep quiet or he’d kill him.

Eventually, he disclosed the abuse to a teacher, the state Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) was called and an investigation took place.  Unfortunately, to “keep family peace” his mother sided with the abuser.  Based largely on his mother’s lack of support for her son, DCYF closed the investigation as “unfounded.”

John Doe #402, feeling deeply betrayed, came to distrust adults and the state.   Depressed, his schoolwork suffered and he began skipping school.  Eventually, he began to smoke marijuana, which led to him being deemed a “delinquent” at age 11, a status he retained until he was 17.

He was in state custody from 2009 to 2015.  Initially, he was placed at Nashua Children’s Home, where he spent most of his time in isolation, either in his cell or in “the quiet room,” an isolation room used for punishment and compliance enforcement. He was subject to frequent violent “takedowns,” in which he was tackled by adults, with his arms twisted high behind his back, pinned to the floor and verbally and physically abused despite being only 11 or 12 years old and in violation of state and federal law.

He came out as gay while at Nashua Children’s Home, making him a target for anti-gay abuse by staff, some of whom referred to him as “the faggot,” according to court documents, as well as by other children who followed the staff’s example.

Next, he was placed at Mount Prospect Academy where the anti-gay abuse and name-calling continued.  He was locked in isolation, sometimes 8 to 10 days at a time, with minimal bathing and irregular and arbitrary toileting.  The staff, he says in the lawsuit, beat him severely about six times, including punching him, banging his head against the bed frame, the wall or a tree; wrenching his arms high up behind his back.  

The beatings occurred for punitive purposes or for no purpose at all.  John Doe #402 never engaged in violent behavior.  “He’s just a sweet, gentle soul,” Vicinanzo said.

John Doe #402 also alleges that the staff at Mount Prospect distributed the drug “spice” to favored minors as well as cigarettes and alcohol.  Some of the staff, he says in the lawsuit, used heroin.   

John Doe #402 then was placed at the Jolicoeur School a/k/a Gammon Academy, operated by Easter Seals in Manchester.  Members of the staff, he says, mocked him routinely for being gay and the minor residents made fun of him because of his sexual orientation.

One resident, larger and older than him, cornered him in a bathroom alone and sexually assaulted him.

Later, he tried to walk away from the Jolicoeur School, was charged with escape and sent to YDC.

The abuse was worse there, he says.  

Kirstie Bean, who in 2018 was convicted of sexual assault in connection with previously reported sexual assaults at YDC and is a registered sex offender, was assigned as his “YC3” counselor. She knew he was gay.  Initially, John Doe #402 liked Bean, that is until she started talking about sex with him and the possibility of him having sex with a woman.  She asked if he ever been with a woman, and when he said no, she replied, “maybe you’d be really good at it.”  She then took his hand, slid it under her waistband to her crotch and pushed his finger into her vagina.  She was giggling.  Startled, he pulled away and she admonished him, “Don’t be a pussy.”

John Doe #402 was 15 or 16 years old at the time.  Later that night, he said Bean came to his cell, warned him not to tell anyone what she had done and threatened his “level,” meaning his privileges, furloughs and prospective release.

Punishment for John Doe #402 was frequent, severe and often arbitrary at the YDC.  One time, a guard accused him of stealing a cigarette lighter. The guard stripped him to his underwear, made him bend over, yanked down his underwear and inserted, first, one finger, then a second, and finally a third finger on his gloved hand all the while making an exaggerated, painful and highly invasive “search” of his rectum.  As he stripped off the used glove, the guard said, “bet you really liked that didn’t you?”

John Doe #402 spent large periods of time locked in solitary confinement, anywhere from three to nine days at a time with almost no human contact, fresh air, exercise, regular bathing, or toileting.  At times, he had to sit in his own waste because there was no toilet in the room and no guard would answer his requests to be let out to the bathroom

John Doe #402 is religious and a primary comfort while at the YDC was practicing his Christian faith.  He attended every service and Bible study he could.  

Unfortunately, he said, Rev. Jose Luna, the juvenile pastor, is also a pastor of the Disciples of the Word Ministry.

The lawsuit says Luna was a member of the state’s Human Rights Commission and Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. and says Gov. Chris Sununu appointed him to the positions.

Ben Vihstadt, communications director for the Governor said that isn’t true.   “The Governor has never appointed Jose Luna to either of these commissions,” Vihstadt said in an email. 

He said Luna was appointed to the State Commission for Human Rights by then-Governor Hassan on Aug. 24, 2016. His term expired Nov. 1, 2019. Gov. Sununu did not reappoint him, and appointed Basra Mohamed to fill Luna’s spot.

Luna’s participation on the Diversity Council, Vihstadt said, “was specifically as the designee of the Human Rights Commission Chair, not as an appointee of the Governor. When he was removed from his position on the Human Rights Commission, he was removed from the Diversity Council by extension.”

Vicinanzo said Vihstadt could be right about the original Hassan appointment.  The lawsuit has since been amended and no longer contains a reference to who appointed him to those positoins.

“Luna was a minister at YDC, harassed and tormented John Doe for being gay, and served on the Human Rights Commission until Nov. 1, 2019, and the Governor’s D&I Council till the same date,” Vicinanzo said.

Luna denied the allegations when asked for comment, particularly that he told the youth he was going to hell for being gay.

“I did not say that because I do not believe in hell.  Hell does not exist,” said Luna, who still is employed at the state-run juvenile center.  “I never said anything like that.”

Luna also said he had no part of what went on at the YDC 30 years ago.  When told the lawsuit said the youth was in state custody from 2009 to 2015, Luna said he wasn’t at the YDC in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, it was at a Bible study that John Doe #402 disclosed to Luna that he was gay and struggling with this faith.  Luna reacted negatively, immediately declaring that God “will never allow a homosexual into heaven.  You will be going to Hell.”  John Doe #402 became emotional, saying he did not choose to be gay and that it was not something he could help.  Luna replied it was not OK to be gay.  “You don’t have to be gay,” he said.  Luna told him he only “thought” he was gay because he had been sexually abused.  John Doe #402 had disclosed the abuse to Luna who, he said, then turned the disclosure against him.

Luna told him he was merely confused by the sexual abuse and could and should choose not to be gay to “save yourself from Hell.”

John Doe #402 stopped discussing the issue with Luna but, he said, the pastor continued to mock him about his sexual orientation, including in front of other residents at Chapel or religious services.  On one occasion, John Doe #402 sat on a chair, which broke beneath him.  Luna laughed at him, saying “You’ve been eating too many cock cakes, uh, I mean cupcakes!”  The group erupted in laughter at Luna’s remark.

The 40-page filing is below:

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Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.