Valley News – Judge tosses NH youth center sex abuse class-action lawsuit; individual claims stand

Published: 05/27/2021 10:21:59 PM

Modified: 05/27/2021 10:21:58 PM

CONCORD – A judge on Wednesday dismissed a class action lawsuit involving 300 people alleging decades of abuse in the New Hampshire juvenile detention center. However, he left the door open for individual claims against the state.

The lead plaintiff, David Meehan, sued the Sununu Youth Services Center, the agencies overseeing him and half a dozen former employees in January 2020 for being beaten and raped almost every day in the so-called Youth Development Center in the late 1990s.

His lawyer, Rus Rilee, now represents more than 300 men and women who say they were physically or sexually abused as children by 150 employees from 1960 to 2018, including gang rape, who were forced to fight each other for food, and held in solitary confinement been for weeks or months.

The judge in Merrimack County Superior Court ruled that a single class action “is too unwieldy given the nature of the allegations and the imprecise alleged class”.

“This case involves different perpetrators and different harms resulting from different injuries sustained by different abuses sustained at different times over a period of 60 years,” wrote Judge John Kissinger. “The damage and the elements required to determine it are specific to each class member.”

Rilee said he respected the court’s decision and would proceed with individual lawsuits.

The Associated Press does not normally name people who claim to have been sexually assaulted unless they go public, as Meehan did.

Kissinger also granted the state’s motion to reject Meehan’s individual claim that he had been denied training at the Manchester facility. But it rejected the state’s argument that the remaining seven claims should be dismissed because Meehan had waited too long to come forward.

The New Hampshire statute of limitations for such cases is three years from the date of the breach. However, there are exceptions in cases where the victims were not informed of the harm or the connection to the illegitimate party.

At a March hearing, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Ramsey said Meehan should have come forward either shortly after he was abused or after federal law passed in 2003 drawing attention to inmate sexual assault. However, the judge was on Meehan’s side, who claims he failed to realize that the state’s negligence led to his abuse by 2017.

“The court believes that a child released from state custody because Mr. Meehan was at the age of eighteen after years of brutal abuse is unlikely to understand that the abuse he had suffered was on top of the institutional Negligence was caused by deliberate acts of the individual perpetrators, ”wrote Kissinger.

Rilee said he was very pleased with that determination.

“This point in the law will now apply to each of the other 325 individual lawsuits that we will be filing now in the coming days, weeks and months,” he said.

The case had been put on hold for more than a year to allow a full criminal investigation into the detention center, which began in July 2019. In April, 10 former youth development center employees and one from a pre-trial facility in Concord were charged with sexual assault or as accomplices in assaulting more than a dozen teenagers from 1994 to 2007.

The defendants include Brad Asbury, who was fired on charges of physical abuse but got his job back under an agreement that kept his resignation out of his personnel file. He and a colleague are charged with detaining a teenage boy while two other employees sexually assaulted him in the dormitory where Asbury was house manager.

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