There is an ongoing lawsuit alleging abuse at a NH youth center. Another 1,000 will be added

CONCORD, N.H. — It started with three words: “They raped me.”

David Meehan’s revelation to his wife seven years ago set in motion an unprecedented criminal investigation into the New Hampshire State Detention Center for Juveniles, which was built in the 1850s as a “house of reform.” It is now called the Sununu Youth Services Center, after former Governor John H. Sununu, the current governor’s father.

Eleven former state workers are facing criminal charges, and dozens of others are accused in the nearly 1,200 lawsuits former residents have filed against the state alleging abuses that spanned six decades. The first lawsuit, filed by Meehan four years ago, will go to trial this week.

“It’s heartwarming in a way to know that I helped these other people find the strength to speak the truth about their experiences,” Meehan told The Associated Press in 2021. “But at the same time, it hurts in a way that I can’t explain, knowing that so many other people were exposed to the same kinds of things that I was.

Meehan was originally the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit that a judge later dismissed. Now his individual suit is the first to go to trial, with several more expected later this year. Jury selection in Rockingham County Superior Court is expected to conclude Tuesday morning, followed by opening arguments.

The trial is expected to last weeks and will be the most public demonstration yet of an unusual dynamic in which the attorney general’s office has simultaneously prosecuted perpetrators and defended the state against allegations made in the civil cases. While a team of state attorneys seeks to undermine Meehan’s credibility, a separate team will rely on his story to prosecute former employees in upcoming criminal trials.

“This case and the criminal cases are closely linked,” Judge Andrew Schulman wrote last month. “The evidence in this case comes partly from the criminal investigation. In determining which course to take in any location, the Attorney General cannot possibly divide the facts into two piles, one civil and one criminal.

Meehan was fourteen when he was sent to the then Youth Development Center in Manchester in 1995. Over the next three years, he claims he was routinely beaten, raped hundreds of times and held in solitary confinement for months. According to his lawsuit, an employee who subjected him to near-daily abuse initially gained his trust by giving him snacks and arranging for him to play basketball with local high school students. He accuses other workers of standing guard or holding him down during attacks, and says that when he told a supervisor how he got a black eye and a split lip, the man cut him off and said, “Look, little fella, that just doesn’t happen. .”

The lawsuit seeks at least $1.9 million for past and future lost earnings, plus compensation for pain and suffering, permanent disability and loss of quality of life. It accuses the state of breaching its duty to act in Meehan’s best interests and enabling the abuse by being negligent in hiring, training and supervising employees.

The state denies these allegations and insists it is not liable for the intentional criminal behavior of ‘rogue’ employees. The state also disputes the nature, extent and severity of Meehan’s injuries, arguing that he contributed to them and that some of the alleged physical abuse in question was “excused as necessary to maintain order and discipline.”

The state also argues that Meehan waited too long to come forward. The New Hampshire statute of limitations for such lawsuits is three years from the date of the injury, but there are exceptions in cases where victims were unaware of the injury or its connection to the wrongful party.

In criminal law, the statute of limitations for sexual assault involving children runs until the victim turns 40. Ten men have been charged with sexually abusing or aiding in the sexual assault of more than a dozen teenagers at the Manchester Detention Center from 1994 to 2007, while an 11th man faces charges in connection with a preliminary investigation in Concord. The first criminal trial was scheduled to begin this month, but a judge postponed it until August last week.

Schulman, the judge overseeing Meehan’s trial, has said these allegations don’t make anything in Meehan’s case more or less likely. He has also warned Meehan’s lawyers to stick to the facts.

“This is a trial, not a Manichaean battle between light and darkness,” he wrote last month. “False appeals to passion, which ring like a bell that cannot be detuned, are the ingredients of which void trials are made.”