March 3 – More than 200 people imprisoned as children in state juvenile detention joined a one-year lawsuit alleging they were victims of physical and sexual abuse.
When the lawsuit was filed in January 2020, prosecutor’s attorney Rus Rilee wrote in a court he filed last month, only 35 people came forward to charge the abuse.
Over the past year, Rilee said Tuesday, another 200 people have reported being abused as children at the Youth Development Center, which has been called Sununu Youth Center since 2006.
Rilee said he now represents more than 230 people who say they have been abused.
That group of prosecutors is led by David Meehan, who said in court files that he was sexually assaulted repeatedly by Center for Youth Development staff, and was not trusted when he tried to report the abuse.
In March 2020, approximately two months after the lawsuit was filed, the State Attorney’s Office announced a renewed criminal investigation into allegations of abuse at the Youth Development Center, under investigation by a special working group of attorneys and state police.
Charges filed in 2019 against two men allegedly abusing children at the Youth Development Center were dismissed in 2020 as the probe expanded.
The task force is still investigating, Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said Tuesday.
“There are dedicated prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office, as well as New Hampshire State Police investigators working on this investigation on a daily basis,” Young said.
Young asked anyone with information about the Youth Development Center or Sununu Youth Center to call the working group at 271-4000.
Rilee and prosecutors agreed to stop a civil lawsuit in May to give way to a criminal investigation, but on Tuesday, Rilee said the proceedings were taking too long. After a year, he noted, there were no new criminal charges.
“My clients are now ready to move towards a civil process,” Rilee said.
More than 230 clients represented by Rilee say they were abused between 1963 and 2018, Rilee said, when they were between 7 and 18 years old.
“All of these people came out of this institution as victims of crimes who were ashamed, embarrassed and lacked the skills that the institution was supposed to provide,” Rilee said.
Abused and denied education, Rilee said, the time his clients at the Center for Youth Development did not allow them to function as members of society and led to drug abuse and crime.
“The state caused it,” Rilee said.
The state court has asked the court to dismiss lawsuits against state agencies and instead focus on individuals who allegedly abused children at the Youth Development Center.
The state also decided to dismiss the entire lawsuit, saying it would be too complicated to investigate any allegation of abuse and arguing that too much time has passed since Meehan’s alleged abuse.
In a statement, Joseph Ribsam, director of the State Department for Children, Youth and Families, said the Sununu Youth Center now protects children being cared for from physical and sexual abuse and cooperates with criminal investigations.
“These efforts reflect the commitment of teams from SYSC (Sununu Center for Youth Services Center) and DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) for the safety of young people receiving services at that facility,” Ribsam said in a statement.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the chief prosecutor in the lawsuit.