Landmark Abuse Case Concludes with Jury Deliberation

Jurors hear closing arguments in a landmark case alleging brutal physical and sexual abuse at New Hampshire's Youth Development Center in the 1990s. Plaintiff David Meehan seeks over $200 million in damages from the state, citing negligence and a culture of abuse.

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Sakchi Khandelwal
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Landmark Abuse Case Concludes with Jury Deliberation

Landmark Abuse Case Concludes with Jury Deliberation

In a landmark case in Brentwood, New Hampshire, jurors have heard closing arguments in a lawsuit filed by David Meehan, who alleges brutal physical and sexual abuse at the Youth Development Center (YDC) in the 1990s. Meehan is seeking over $200 million in damages from the state of New Hampshire.

Why this matters: This case has far-reaching implications for the accountability of institutions in protecting the vulnerable and the consequences of ignoring or covering up abuse. The outcome of this trial will set a precedent for the hundreds of other lawsuits filed against the Youth Development Center and the state of New Hampshire, potentially leading to significant reforms and increased transparency.

Meehan went to the police in 2017 and sued the state three years later. Since then, 11 former state workers have been arrested, and more than 1,100 other former residents have filed lawsuits alleging physical, sexual, and emotional abuse spanning six decades.

During the closing arguments, Meehan's lawyer, David Vicinanzo, argued that an award upwards of $200 million would be reasonable, citing $1 million for each alleged sexual assault. Vicinanzo claimed that the state's clear negligence encouraged a culture of abuse marked by "pervasive brutality, corruption, and a code of silence."

Meanwhile, the state's lawyer, Martha Gaythwaite, countered that Meehan's case relies on "conjecture and speculation with a lot of innuendo mixed in" and that zero liability should be assigned to the state. Gaythwaite denied the existence of a widespread culture of abuse, stating that there was no evidence that the facility's superintendent or anyone in higher-level state positions knew about the alleged abuse.

Meehan spent three days on the witness stand, describing his three years at the Manchester facility and its aftermath. He alleged that his first sexual experience was being violently raped by a staffer at age 15 and that another staffer became a daily tormenter who once held a gun to his head during a sexual assault.

Meehan's attorneys called over a dozen witnesses, including former staffers who said they faced resistance and even threats when they raised or investigated concerns, a former resident who described being gang-raped in a stairwell, and a teacher who said she spotted suspicious bruises on Meehan and half a dozen other boys during his time there.

The state called five witnesses, including Meehan's father, who answered yes when asked whether his son had a reputation for untruthfulness. The state also presented testimony from Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatrist who diagnosed Meehan with bipolar disorder, not post-traumatic stress disorder, after reviewing his medical history and speaking with him for several hours.

The case highlights an unusual dynamic in which the attorney general's office is both defending the state against the civil lawsuits and prosecuting suspected perpetrators in the criminal cases. Though the state tried to undermine Meehan's credibility in the current case, it will be relying on his testimony when the criminal cases go to trial.

As the jury deliberates, the outcome of this landmark case could have significant implications for the hundreds of other lawsuits filed against the Youth Development Center and the state of New Hampshire. The verdict will not only determine the damages awarded to Meehan but also set a precedent for how similar cases may be handled in the future.

Key Takeaways

  • Jurors hear closing arguments in landmark case alleging abuse at NH Youth Development Center.
  • David Meehan seeks over $200 million in damages from the state of New Hampshire.
  • 11 former state workers arrested, over 1,100 former residents file lawsuits alleging abuse.
  • Meehan alleges brutal physical and sexual abuse at the facility in the 1990s.
  • Verdict could set precedent for hundreds of similar lawsuits against the state.