YDC Abuse Fund on Temporary Hold; Revised Law Allows 10 Years To Pay Victim Claims

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YDC in Manchester, now known as Sununu Youth Services Center

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD – The state settlement fund for victims of abuse while incarcerated as children at the Youth Development Center has quietly implemented a temporary hold on claims and payment processing until Aug. 31, causing angst among some who thought they were finally going to get justice.

YDC victims are also concerned about portions of the revised law that went into effect June 14 they didn’t know about such as claims administrator John Broderick now having the authority to pay out some settlements over a period of up to 10 years rather than the lump sum in effect before that.

A victim who previously recovered for sexual or physical abuse under the settlement fund cannot file a second claim, even if they weren’t compensated for the newly-covered forms of abuse such as egregious sexual assault, illegal strip search, unlawful confinement and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They would have to file a lawsuit to recover for those types of abuse.

The revised law from Senate Bill 591 was touted as adding another $60 million to the $100 million YDC settlement fund, increasing the award cap in a new category of “egregious sexual abuse” at $2.5 million, and adding other new claim categories such as for illegal confinement and unlawful strip searches.

The fund hold affects any claimant who is currently in the process and has not yet received their payment – even those who have signed a release.

“I’m aware of well over 20 claimants who are in the position of having accepted either the state’s offer or the administrator’s decision on their claim, but have not been paid their settlements and very likely won’t be paid for at least another couple of months,” said attorney Mark Knights, who represents the largest group of YDC victims along with Rus Rilee and David Vicinanzo.

“As one can imagine, there’s a fair amount of discontent among that group of people who feel as though the state is breaking its promise to them,” Knights said.

The possibility of periodic payments will not affect awards that have already been paid out, nor should it legally affect awards that have already been made but not yet paid out, Knights said.

But the pause will affect claimants with high-interest pre-judgment loans such as John Doe 845.

Many of the YDC victims have taken out big loans against their future settlements at interest rates of 35 percent.

“And that issue impacts more people than just those who haven’t been paid: any uncertainty around whether and when the state is going to actually pay the awards is going to drive people away from the settlement fund and right back into court.

“If the state wants the settlement fund to work, it needs to fix this ASAP,” Knights said.

In an email, Jennifer Foley, general counsel for YDC Claims Administration said: “Claim processing and payment processing will be fully operational as soon as possible.  We want to ensure that all transition steps are in place for orderly and effective claims processing.

“The public is encouraged to review our website regularly.  We will provide updates as we are able.”

Foley estimated there are about 150 claims in the early stages of review for administrative completeness, about 180 claims in other claims processing steps, and about 35 claims are in the payment processing stage.

The state had hoped to draw more victims to the YDC settlement fund with the revised law rather than take their case to Superior Court, especially after a Rockingham County Court jury awarded abuse victim David Meehan $38 million, although the state is challenging that award. Meehan was the first of more than 1,000 victims to have a civil trial against the state where it is up to the jury to decide an award.

“It’s crazy. At the beginning I read articles about the state guidelines compared to other states. It is not even half of what they would pay in other states,” said John Doe 845 of the state settlement fund.

“They’re getting away with murder,” he said of the state. “It seems like they are making up the rules as they go.”

He said the lawyers and the loan companies get paid in full on first payment, but the victims may have to wait.

For John Doe 845, it’s a double whammy facing the possibility of not getting paid in a lump sum and now the hold on the settlement fund.

He was scheduled to settle with the state for $855,000 the day the new law went into effect three weeks ago, but instead cancelled the hearing to make sure he wasn’t deprived of receiving more because of the increased caps and new abuse categories.

Doe, who is 47, asked his name not be used. His claim involves sexual and physical abuse. InDepthNH.org doesn’t publish the names of sexual abuse victims unless they ask it to be public.

“This pause is not going to help me, and it affects me and a lot of people. I was shocked when the attorneys told me about it,” Doe said in a telephone interview.

He had planned to seek a higher amount than the $855,000 offer, but said if he had known the hold was coming and that he might have to wait 10 years to receive the full amount he likely would have made a different choice.

“I might have taken their first offer,” he said.

The longer he has to wait, the more it costs him financially and emotionally. He has taken out three pre-judgment loans totaling $160,000, but said the interest rates go up the longer it takes him to pay it back. The companies are also not making new loans during the hold, he said.

So any delay is likely to be very costly. He already owes $300,000 on those loans because of the high interest rates, he said, not counting what he owes the attorneys helping him through the settlement fund. That is capped by law at 33.33 percent of the award.

He said he has also spent much of the money he borrowed on a truck, lawyers and private investigators because of some people who want his money. He said they succeeded in getting the Division for Children, Youth and Families to remove from his custody the three children he has raised as a single father.

He and the children were about to move out of state to put a downpayment on a home when authorities took the children into foster care. He is fighting to get them back.

And he doesn’t know when he can get another appointment with the administrator to finally settle his claim.

As the loan money dwindles, he is living in his truck except when it gets too hot to sleep, then he pays for a hotel room.

His civil suit alleges horrific sexual and physical abuse during his six-month stint at YDC when he was 16 for auto theft. He believes his back was broken at YDC when a staffer would stand on his back and force him to exercise. He has had five back surgeries since leaving YDC.

Neither the YDC settlement fund nor the attorney general has publicly announced the hold on claims and payment processing.

When Gov. Chris Sununu signed the bill into law, he briefly mentioned its title in a news release along with 50 other bills he signed.

It said: “SB 591: Modifying definitions, claims procedures, and funding relating to the youth development center settlement fund and claims administration.”

Attorney General John Formella issued a news release when Sununu signed the bill.

“Governor Sununu’s signature of SB 591 is a significant step forward in our commitment to justice and healing for YDC victims,” Formella said.

“…We believe that this new framework will offer a meaningful alternative to traditional litigation for the vast majority of victims, while also ensuring budgetary certainty and protecting the interests of taxpayers.”

It doesn’t mention that payouts on settlements can now be made over 10 years or go into detail that the new caps aren’t retroactive.

“As we move forward, we are committed to working closely with Administrator Broderick, plaintiffs’ counsel, and, most importantly, the victims themselves, to ensure that the implementation of these changes is conducted with fairness, respect, and efficiency. Together, we are dedicated to providing victims with the justice and closure they deserve,” Formella said.

John Doe 845 doesn’t see justice.

“I think it’s ridiculous. They are purposely making it impossible for anyone wanting to go to trial. They have only one judge to handle every case.

“I don’t know if it is to save money or bad publicity, then now with this pause, I’m sure victims want to get past it,” he said.

The settlement fund website said the pause is needed because the revised law “requires a period of preparation to make adjustments to current claims processing in an orderly manner.  The Administrator has implemented a temporary hold through August 31, 2024, during which some claims process will continue.

“This temporary pause is grounded in the current needs of the Fund as we near the conclusion of this Fiscal Year and the period of adjustment required in light of the passage of SB 591 on June 14, 2024. SB 591 effectuates significant substantive and procedural revisions to the YDC Settlement Fund statute and is immediately applicable to both pending, unresolved claims and claims filed on or after the effective date of this act.”

“Everyone’s patience is appreciated during this transition period.  With everyone’s cooperation, claims processing and payment processing will be fully operational as soon as possible.”

John Doe 845 said: “The state is now paying for fostering my kids and coming after me for child support. I’m stuck…”

He recalled some of the abuse at YDC around the year 1992 and how it changed his life. He believes the treatment he received at the hands of the state of New Hampshire set him up for a life where he acted out violently sometimes assaulting police and prison guards.

He ended up serving 10 years in federal prison.

“The state trooper who transported us to YDC said he was going to make sure we were going to get raped when we got there and said the only way to leave there was in a box.

“Once we got to YDC he was telling staff ‘I want these kids’ asses kicked, for them to be raped these Massholes,’” he said, because they came from Massachusetts but they were arrested in Salem.

“Before I had been able to work, then needed five back surgeries. Before I went to YDC I was a great athlete, scouted for professional baseball,” he said.

He remembered playing sports at YDC and staffers would make him and someone from the other team fight at the end of the game.

“They made me fight like a dog if we lost and they’d gamble, betting cases of beer,” he said.

His nose was broken two or three times and a staffer broke four of his fingers.

“They wouldn’t bring me to the hospital,” he said.

John Doe 845’s court complaint includes allegations of having his genitals grabbed by a staffer and being locked in solitary confinement, forced to relieve himself in his cell when no one would respond to his request to use the bathroom, then forced to clean it up.

He said he was forced to stand in a square made from red duct tape on the floor of a hallway from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. over a five-week period.

After one resident attempted to run away and hit a staff member with a chair in the process, staff assumed that all residents were somehow involved in the escape and locked them up, forcing them to do PT for hours. Staff came into each cell and beat the residents by hitting and slapping them and dragging them by their hair.

According to his complaint:

*Staff threw him forcefully into his room, and strangled him on multiple occasions, including once on a pool table and once in the bathroom.

*One staffer made him and other residents take showers at odd times and would sit in a chair and watch them and not let them close the curtain. Sometimes multiple staffers would watch.

*One was known for playing a game that involved grabbing residents’ genitals.

“During such an incident involving Plaintiff, the staffer grabbed Plaintiff’s penis as Plaintiff was returning to his cell, cutting his penis, because he had long fingernails that curled upward. As a result, Plaintiff has a scar on his penis.”

John Doe 845 said he filed a criminal report when he first started the civil complaint process, but hasn’t heard back. The staffers mentioned in his complaint haven’t been indicted and he doesn’t know if the criminal investigation is continuing.

The state arrested only 11 people who formerly worked at YDC in connection with the abuse detailed in the lawsuits against the state Department of Health and Human Services.

John Doe 845’s time at YDC: “It 100 percent devastated my life. I don’t think I would have ended up in federal prison and committed all these assaults. My life would have been different.

“For my children I was able to turn it around,” he said.

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