David Meehan Takes Stand in His Abuse Lawsuit Against YDC

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Y.D.C. plaintiff David Meehan testifies as his intake photo from Y.D.C. when he was 14 is displayed in his civil trial at Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood on Wednesday, April 17. David Lane/Union Leader POOL


BRENTWOOD – The man leading the fight to hold the state of New Hampshire accountable for decades of horrific sexual and physical abuse and coverup, David Meehan began telling his story to jurors Wednesday, speaking haltingly and fighting through the emotional scars forced on him.

“I’m still trapped in all of it,” Meehan said.

Meehan’s lawsuit in Rockingham Superior Court is the first of more than 1,000 complaints brought by survivors who say predators operated freely within the state’s system for handling troubled children, especially at the Sununu Youth Services Center, then called YDC in Manchester, where Meehan was raped almost daily by staff. But Meehan’s lawsuit is about more than the abusive staff, he alleges leaders in state agencies failed kids and covered up the abuse time and again.

Like many of the children put into the system, Meehan ended up in state custody after suffering years of abuse at home. His mother regularly beat him and put out her cigarettes on him as he was growing up. Some of the burns are still visible on his body, he said.

“The details of (his childhood abuse) are not what are on trial here, but it wasn’t great,” Meehan said.

Meehan started running away from home and stealing food in order to eat, he testified. At about 13 he started to get into more and more trouble with police and his mother. After he fought back against his mother during one of her abusive attacks, Meehan ended up in state custody for the first time. Meehan would be in and out of programs and group homes for months, and still running away to escape his home. He lived with friends and in abandoned buildings at different times, he said. His life took a turn when he got caught for stealing a gun from a home, he said.

“There was no intent behind it. I was living on the streets at that point. I figured I could sell it to somebody,” he testified.

But Meehan got locked up, first at the Youth Detention Services Unit. Meehan was able to go AWOL from the facility but was soon back in custody and facing time at the main YDC. That’s when he learned from another boy who had been there that YDC staff sexually abused children.

Afraid, Meehan and two other boys attempted to escape from the Manchester facility, taking a female staffer hostage using a Bic pen as a weapon. That failed attempt would doom Meehan to YDC where he would be repeatedly raped and assaulted, even contracting a sexually transmitted disease as a result of the abuse. Shown his YDC intake photo, Meehan reflected on his 14-year-old self.

“He’s probably wondering ‘how am I here right now?’ He’s scared. He’s the toughest kid you’ll ever see,” Meehan said.

Once brought to YDC, Meehan was informed about the ombudsman program for children to be able to file complaints about staff to someone outside the buildings. But Meehan said all of the complaints first went to the people inside the housing units, the very people he said were abusing him.

“Even if I do fill out one of these, I have to hand it to my counselor,” Meehan said.

Wednesday’s testimony started with Michael Gilpatrick, another child locked up at YDC around the same time as Meehan in the 1990s. Gilpatrick testified he was repeatedly raped and beaten by staff, the same staff that brutalized Meehan. After one particularly vicious assault in which staffers Jeff Buskey and Stephen Murphy allegedly beat and raped Gilpatrick, he was left alone in his cell.

“I remember crying and blaming myself. I felt ashamed, wondering what I did in this world to deserve this,” Gilpatrick said.

Gilpatrick ended up in and out of jails and prisons for years almost as soon as he got out of YDC. He left state custody as a child with no practical skills and no education.

“They taught me how to be a hardened criminal. How to keep my mouth shut, how to take a good beating,” Gilpatrick testified.

The YDC schooling was indifferent, at best, when he was allowed to go. Residential staffers would keep him locked up and out of class sometimes for weeks after an assault.

Nursing staff did not normally check on the boys without being requested by a member of the residential staff.

But even when he got to class, Gilpatrick testified the abuse continued. One teacher he named as Miss Dudley, pursued a sexual relationship with him. He was 15 at the time.

“At the time I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it,” he testified.

Gilpatrick knew Meehan, but the two never talked. Boys were not allowed to talk to each other without permission from staff, not even while in school.

To further make the case YDC administrators were negligent, Meehan’s lawyers called New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Kelly Lapointe, a member of the Attorney General’s YDC Task Force, to testify about finding a complaint Meehan filed against Buskey on May 8 of 1998. The complaint first went to Bob Kukla, the assistant house leader for Meehan’s residential unit per YDC policy. Kukla then brought the complaint to Buskey, and then nothing happened to the complaint for months, she testified.

“There was no further record of the complaint being investigated,” Lapointe testified.

However, the complaint did eventually get to YDC Ombudsman Rochelle Edmark in July of that year. Edmark testified earlier this week she was discouraged by YDC administrators from pursuing investigations, like Meehan’s May 8 complaint, because it was supposedly being handled by a special investigator with the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

Out of millions of pages of discovery so far produced in the case, Lapointe testified she could find records on one complaint getting sent to the special DCYF investigator.

Meehan is expected to continue his testimony on Thursday.

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