More than 200 more join lawsuit alleging abuse as children while living in state-run detention center

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NH Youth Development Center in Manchester, NH. File Photo

CONCORD, NH — In the year since a lawsuit was filed alleging sexual and physical abuse of more than 30 children at the state-run youth detention center, the case has expanded to more than 230 children spanning six decades, according to recent court filings.

Attorney Rus Rilee of Bedford filed the lawsuit in Merrimack County Superior Court in January 2020 on behalf of 32 people.  Since then, another 200 people have come forward alleging they were abused at the facility formerly known as the Youth Development Center in Manchester, now called the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center. 

For years, the facility housed about 100 – 110 youth, ages 11 to 17 who were sent there through judicial proceedings for offenses as minor as repeatedly running away from home to the most serious including homicide.  Today, there are fewer than 20 youth there.

As the number of plaintiffs has increased in the case, so too have the number of accused staff and allegations.

Rilee, who was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment, previously told the Associated Press that more detailed allegations of the abuse will be contained in later court filings.

Those include that perpetrators include 150 staff with more than half of them accused of sexual abuse.  He said children were gang raped by counselors, beaten while being raped and forced to sexually abuse each other.  

Rilee said some contracted sexually transmitted diseases; one ended up pregnant.

He said children were choked, beaten unconscious, burned with cigarettes and suffered broken bones.  He told AP that counselors set up “fight clubs” and forced kids to compete for food. Children were locked in solitary confinement for weeks or months, sometimes shackled or strapped naked to their beds.   

Amand Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said “It’s unconscionable to think that dozens of boys and girls experienced horrific sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of those whose sole duty was to protect and care for them,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.   “Children ordered to a secure institution by the juvenile legal system are among the most vulnerable in New Hampshire, and it’s horrifying to think that staff viewed them as easy targets for victimization.” 

David Meehan, 39, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.   He was 14 years old in 1995 when he was ordered to the YDC after numerous encounters with police.

In fifth grade, he ran away numerous times to escape an abusive home life, ending up living in the streets and dependent on other homeless youth for companionship and protection. To obtain food and shelter, he committed burglaries which ultimately resulted in his YDC commitment.   

Meehan alleges YDC staff beat and raped him and when he told other counselors of the abuse they thought he was lying. The last time he was raped, Meehan said he struggled against his abuser but heard a “pop” and fainted.  When he woke up, he was lying on the side of a softball field at YDC.  A nurse was running over to him and he heard the counselor tell the nurse he had suffered a football injury.  Meehan was taken to Elliot Hospital where he was diagnosed with a groin injury.

The following year, in group counseling, he revealed he was raped at YDC.  The counselor, however, said that had not happened, Meehan had simply misunderstood events.

It wasn’t until Jan. 13, 2017, that he filed a report with Brentwood Police.

A New Hampshire State Police investigator met with him concerning the report.  Meehan recognized her as a former assistant gym teacher at YDC when he was there.  The investigator began the conversation by saying she believed him.  She told him while working at East Cottage at YDC as an intern, she witnessed another staff member assault a resident and saw other residents with bruises and contusions.

She told Meehan a supervisor told her it was in her best interest to keep quiet and stay out of things that did not concern her.

Meehan said that was the first time it occurred to him that persons in positions of authority at YDC knew or should have known about the misconduct of YDC personnel and failed to protect him from the abuse.

In July 2019, two former YDC youth counselors were indicted for allegedly raping a teen – Meehan – at YDC more than 20 years ago.

Jeffrey Buskey, 52, of Dorchester, Mass. was indicted on 56 felony counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (AFSA) by a Hillsborough County North Grand Jury. Stephen Murphy, 50, of Danvers, Mass. was indicted on 26 AFSA counts.

A year ago, however, state officials dropped those charges amid an ever-expanding investigation. State officials said at that time the action does not preclude them from bringing charges against the men at a later time.  They cited constitutional and discovery deadlines that negatively affected the state’s ability to conduct the wider investigation as reasons for dropping the charges.

The investigation is being done by the Joint YDC Task Force, which consists of 10 New Hampshire State Police troopers and an intelligence analyst.

The lead investigators are State Police Sgt. Justin D. Rowe and Attorney General Investigator James O. Kinney. The investigation is being led by Senior Assistant Attorney General Lisa Wolford with support from Deputy Attorney General Jane Young, Associate Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin, Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward, and Attorney Timothy Sullivan.

The lawsuit was filed as a class action which the state is asking the court to dismiss.