Consolidated Youth Center Abuse Lawsuits Move Forward

CONCORD, NH — A judge has consolidated hundreds of lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse at the New Hampshire youth detention center, more than two years after the first case was filed.

David Meehan sued the state, the youth center, the agencies that oversee it, and several former employees in January 2020, alleging he suffered near-daily rape and beatings at Manchester’s Youth Development Center in the years 1990. At the time, he was one of three dozen men and women who had come forward, but since then around 450 have filed lawsuits alleging abuse by 150 out of six staff decades.

Civil litigation has largely been suspended since the arrest of 11 former youth workers last year, but a judge last week kicked it into high gear with an order outlining the consolidation process.

Although consolidation brings “the risk of cookie-cutter decisions,” pursuing individual cases would present a “gruesome administrative burden” on the court, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman said. The state is expected to produce more than 3 million pages of documents during the initial discovery phase. The discovery is likely to take several months and groups of cases will be combined for joint trials, lawyers said.

Attorney Rus Rilee, who is representing nearly all of the plaintiffs, filed a “main complaint” on Friday covering allegations and common legal claims among his clients. He said he expects to file individual complaints for about 700 customers in the next 30 days.

“We are excited to now enter the discovery phase of these prosecutions, so that we can begin taking depositions and releasing documents to the public to shed light on decades of systemic government child abuse, in hope to prevent these atrocities from ever happening to another child in state custody,” he said Monday.

The main complaint describes the establishment’s history from the 1850s, portraying it as a place where “violence, abuse and neglect simmered just below the surface”, while those in power “constantly turned their backs on the children”.

He alleges that several employees not only failed to take action to stop the abuse, but actively covered it up.

“More than that, state defendants, including agents and employees in supervisory positions, have tolerated or ignored a general culture of violence, abuse, border crossings, disrespect and disrespect. ‘antipathy towards children in their care, creating fertile ground for reasonably foreseeable individual acts of abuse to proliferate, persist and go unaddressed, thereby creating a cycle that perpetuates the abuse,’ the complaint states.

According to the complaint, each plaintiff suffered at least one form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, was the victim of neglect or undue hardship or was deprived of an education. Examples of physical abuse include being pushed down stairs or bumping into walls; emotional abuse included forcing children to consume urine or litter and encouraging a suicidal youth to “go for it”.

Hoping to avoid lengthy litigation, the legislature created a $100 million fund for victims of physical and sexual abuse. Victims will have two years to file a claim from January 1. Individual sexual abuse payments will be capped at $1.5 million, while physical abuse payments will be capped at $150,000.

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