New Hampshire Jury Awards $38 Million in Landmark Case Alleging Repeated Rapes, Beatings at State Youth Center

A New Hampshire jury has awarded $38 million to a former resident of the state-run Youth Development Center, where he alleged he was repeatedly raped and beaten as a young boy.

The landmark case was decided Friday by jurors who heard hours of testimony about horrific treatment at the juvenile detention center. It is the first of more than 1,100 lawsuits filed by former child residents who claim the state failed to protect them as wards of the center.

David Meehan testified for several days in the highly publicized trial, saying he was locked in solitary confinement, groomed for sexual abuse by a counselor, repeatedly raped and had a gun held to his head during one sexual assault.

“I just want to see the happy times now,” Meehan said in court. “That is what sucks about this process is I am still trapped in all of it.”

But after the verdict was released, the New Hampshire Department of Justice said state law limits Meehan’s payout to $475,000.

“The jury awarded $38 million in damages but found that Mr. Meehan had proven that only one incident had occurred,” the Justice Department statement said. “Any claimant who brings a lawsuit against the state may only recover up to $475,000 per incident. Therefore, today’s jury verdict will result in an award of $475,000 for Mr. Meehan,” the statement added. 

There are nearly 1,200 civil lawsuits behind Meehan’s, all of them claiming repeated abuse and sexual assaults at the center, which is now called  Sununu Youth Services Center, after former Gov. John H. Sununu, the father of the current governor.

The state is also criminally investigating the facility and has charged 11 former employees in connection with the alleged abuse and sexual assaults at the detention center.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office is in an unusual position as it both prosecutes suspects and simultaneously defends the state in the civil cases. In the criminal cases, prosecutors are relying on the testimony of former residents. In the civil cases, state lawyers are trying to undermine the credibility of witness testimony.

“The $38 million verdict is the largest verdict in a contested personal injury case in the history of New Hampshire,” said a statement from Meehan’s attorneys, Rus Rilee and David Vicinanzo.

In a phone interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Vicinanzo said the state was “ridiculous” in saying hundreds of abuse accusations equals a single incident.

“Today, the jury basically gave the state a cold hard slap in the face and said do better,” the lawyer said. “Instead of responding ‘We were wrong and we’ll fix it and do much better in the future,’ they immediately started quibbling with the money part instead of taking full responsibility for the child abuse that they allowed to happen for so long.”

David Meehan “is a hero in New Hampshire history for having the courage to tell the truth about the state’s grotesque abuse of him as a child,” the statement from his attorneys said. “He spoke truth to power, and the jury sent a powerful message validating his harm and condemning the state’s wanton, malicious, and oppressive conduct.”

The jury awarded $18 million in compensatory damages, to compensate Meehan for his pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

The jurors awarded $20 million in enhanced compensatory damages “because the state engaged in ‘wanton, malicious, and oppressive conduct’ by abusing its power in permitting the sexual assaults, excessive solitary confinement, and physical abuse,” the attorneys’ statement said.

The jury also awarded $18 million in damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

Related Stories