450 YDC Abuse Victims Want Their Cases To Move Forward

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The John H. Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly known as YDC, in Manchester.

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

The men and women suing the state alleging they were sexually and physically abused while incarcerated at the Youth Development Center in Manchester as minors have asked the court to allow their cases to go forward.

The 450 plaintiffs filed a motion to lift the stay the court imposed in February. The lawyers expect to file another 150 to 200 cases in the coming weeks.

“The state has engaged in foot-dragging recently, and each of the hundreds of victims are asserting their constitutional right to prompt justice,” said Nixon Peabody Attorney David Vicinanzo, who is representing the plaintiffs with Attorney Rus Rilee.

“The court needed a brief stay to get its arms around the sheer number of cases, but it is time to move forward with discovery and trial preparation.  The state opposes the request to move the cases forward. However, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’” Vicinanzo said.

Michael Garrity, Attorney General John Formella’s spokesman, said that is not the case.

“Any suggestion that the Attorney General’s Office is ‘dragging its feet’ or ‘trying to pay out as little as possible’ is categorically false. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been attempting to work with plaintiffs’ counsel in good faith and are disappointed by this inflammatory and unnecessary filing.”

Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law legislation for a $100 million victims’ fund, which was criticized by Vicinanzo.

The motion to lift the stay says the victims have been patient and were encouraged by the Attorney General’s initial response.

“(I)n recent months it has become increasingly clear that the state is now resolved on a defense strategy that succeeds by delay,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs want to move forward with their cases immediately following the June 29 structuring conference.

“Each and every one of the Plaintiffs was placed in the care and custody of the Defendants to be protected from harm and given a better chance at succeeding in society.

“Instead, through the actions of the Defendants in these matters, Plaintiffs were robbed of their childhoods and left with lifelong physical and emotional scars. The stories these individuals tell reveal unimaginable wrongs, including brutal rapes, forced abortions, broken bones, and weeks on end of isolation where individuals were at times shackled and forced to urinate and defecate, without a toilet, in the same room in which they slept,” the motion states.

Some remain illiterate to this day because they were deprived of their right to an education.

The motion quoted a 1980 published statement from then-Attorney General Thomas Rath.

“In 1980, for example, then-Attorney General Thomas Rath told the Associated Press: ‘There is no question that the potential exists for the YDC (Youth Development Center) to be the next Laconia [State School] in terms of litigation,’ referring to the appalling neglect and abuse of mentally challenged persons revealed in Laconia in the 1970s. Lamenting the problems in New Hampshire’s juvenile justice system, Rath said, ‘(I)f there is an area where we have been deficient in this state, it has been in this regard,’” the motion states.

Brutal acts of child abuse are still occurring at Youth Facilities operated by the state to this day, according to the motion.

“Less than two weeks ago, a child was beaten while handcuffed in his room and had to wait for hours before being taken to Catholic Medical Center with lacerations and a dislocated shoulder. Clearly, until the state is forced to face the truth about its actions and inactions, real change and decent treatment of those committed to New Hampshire’s Youth Facilities will not happen,” the motion states.

It has been more than five years since the first survivor of abuse at the state’s Youth Facilities reported his experience to authorities.

After Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s confirmation to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in early 2021, things changed under Formella’s leadership, the motion states.

“Since that time, discussions with the Attorney General stalled, and the state began to adopt tactics seemingly calculated to delay, if not outright deny, justice for the survivors,” the motion states.

The motion also criticized the slow movement on the prosecution of former state employees accused in connection with the abuse.

“As of the date of this filing, none of the criminal defendants have been convicted, nor have any of their cases proceeded to trial, and no further indictments have been made, despite an abundance of evidence of criminal wrongdoing by additional state employees well within the criminal statute of limitations,” the motion states.

It also criticized lawmakers for their response.

“The New Hampshire legislature’s response to this tragedy has also been slow and underwhelming,” the motion states.

The bill that was ultimately signed into law last month “falls well short of the ‘victim-centered, trauma informed’ legislation that the Attorney General and legislators had promised and forces survivors to give up their rights for the mere chance to explore their options in this process,” according to the motion.

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