Former YDC Teacher Says State Ignored Her Abuse Complaints, Meehan Rests His Case

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Former YDC teacher Brenda Wouters is pictured Monday testifying in David Meehan's lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services.


BRENTWOOD – David Meehan’s lawyers rested their case Monday after calling their final witness in the lawsuit arguing the state is liable for the horrific sexual and physical abuse against him at the Sununu Youth Services Center, then called YDC in Manchester.

Brenda Wouters, a former social studies teacher at YDC, told jurors she reported suspected abuse of the children she taught numerous times, and was repeatedly ignored by her superiors.

All concerns had to first be reported to residential staff, she said, many of whom are named as abusers in Meehan’s lawsuit and the other more than 1,000 complaints. Wouters would then have to go up the ladder to her direct supervisor, who also did not do anything, she said.

The culture at YDC actively discouraged reporting abuse, she testified. The boxes for students to submit complaints to the YDC ombudsman were frequently damaged by the residential staff, and the children told her they did not trust the reporting process.

Leadership at YDC warned Wouters she would be fired if she ever went outside the agency to report problems, but after getting nowhere she called the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

“I followed the chain of command,” Wouters said. “I even called DCYF to report something going on that didn’t look right to me. They never got back to me.”

Both YDC and DCYF were under the oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services at the time Wouters made her reports.

Children, including Meehan, showed up in her class with dark and alarming bruises and other signs of injury, she said. She recalled one boy, Donny Thompson, coming into class with strange red eyes.

“Donny presented one day and he had the reddest eyes I had ever seen short of watching a Dracula film,” Wouters said.

When she questioned the boy, others in the class told her he was “choked out” by residential staff, she testified. Staff like Brad Asbury, refused to cooperate with Wouters when she tried to help the boys or teach them, and denied her access to students when they were being held in solitary confinement, called “Out of Community” by staff.

“He wouldn’t even talk to me,” Wouters said.

Wouters saw the injuries and heard stories from the children, like the boys who were forced to masturbate in a competition for the amusement of staff, she testified. No matter what she reported, no matter who she reported to, nothing got done, she testified. Not even DCYF responded to her reports.

“I never got any follow-up,” she said.

During the cross examination, Assistant Attorney General Catherine Denny, defending the state, first tried to imply Wouters was lying before accusing her of committing a crime for failing to report the suspected abuse. Denny began by getting Wouters to admit she never saw any of the abuse happening.

“Wouldn’t you agree that it is important to testify about things that actually happened?” Denny said.

Wouters bristled at the question.

“I’ve never been characterized as a liar or someone who makes things up,” Wouters responded.

Denny went on to ask why Wouters never took photos of evidence or prepared a written report, as YDC policy at the time required. Denny suggested Wouters’ own incompetence in the reporting process was at fault.

“It’s fair to say by not following policy, you didn’t protect Mr. Meehan,” Denny said.

Wouters maintained she reported the abuse repeatedly to her direct superior and to DCYF, and she was repeatedly ignored.

“Evidently I didn’t do enough to protect this young man or any other young man in my care,” Wouters said.

Defense attorneys for the state will take over Tuesday, presenting their own evidence to cast doubt on Meehan’s case and claim the state is not liable for any abuse. The New Hampshire Department of Justice legal team first tried to get the case dismissed once Meehan’s side rested, but Judge Andrew Schulman rejected their arguments.

The state first argued Meehan’s lawsuit was brought too long after the abuse to meet the statute of limitations, but Schulman ruled the jury can decide if that is the case. New Hampshire law allows adult survivors of sexual abuse to bring a complaint after the normal statute of limitations run out in cases where facts were previously unknown. Meehan’s team argues he did not know until 2017 that state officials were aware of the abuse and let it happen.

Schulman ruled the jury can weigh whether or not a reasonable person could have been unaware of the state’s responsibility in the abuse. He noted evidence and testimony has already demonstrated the state covered up the abuse for decades.

The defense team also tried to argue Meehan’s lawyers failed to show the state was liable for the abuse, but Schulman said that is not even close. He said Meehan’s proven to the jury that YDC was a backwater, old-boys agency within DCYF where unskilled and untrained people were hired, and known abusive men were allowed to run amok.

“There was extreme failure to provide any meaningful oversight,” Schulman said.

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