UNITED STATES NEWS

New Hampshire considers greatly expanding scope of settlement fund for youth center abuse victims

Feb 20, 2024, 1:50 PM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Lawyers representing 1,400 men and woman who allege they were abused as children at New Hampshire’s youth detention centers said Tuesday they will recommend the state’s out-of-court settlement option for most of their clients if lawmakers approve a plan to greatly expand its scope.

The state faces about 1,200 lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse stretching back six decades at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center, in Manchester. As an alternative to litigation, lawmakers established a $100 million settlement fund with a two-year application period that started in January 2023, but most alleged victims have opted to go to court instead.

A bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, would make sweeping changes to the settlement process, including adding multiple new categories of abuse. Under the current system, former center residents can make claims based on sexual assault or first- and second-degree physical assault. The bill proposes allowing claims based on a slew of other crimes, including reckless conduct, criminal threatening, child endangerment, solitary confinement, unlawful strip-search and intentional inflection of emotional distress.

The bill was the result of intense and at times contentious negotiations between the attorney general’s office and lawyers for the victims, both sides acknowledged Tuesday. Supporters called it a compromise that will better serve victims while possibly protecting the state from astronomical jury awards.

“As much as we should be ashamed of what happened at YDC we should be proud that we’re making these efforts to make it right,” Attorney General John Formella told the committee.

The scandal came to light in 2019 after two former workers were charged with abusing David Meehan, a former resident who filed the first lawsuit in 2020 and has gone public with his story. Eleven former workers are now facing criminal charges, with both the first criminal trial and the first civil trial scheduled for April.

Meehan, whose civil case will be heard first, and hundreds of others plan to continue their litigation, said Attorney Rus Rilee, who together with the Nixon Peabody law firm represents 1,400 former residents who allege abuse between 1960 and 2019, about 1,200 of whom have filed lawsuits.

“While this bill isn’t perfect, it is certainly an improvement on the current fund, and we believe it will be a good option for the vast majority of our clients which we will encourage them to explore,” Rilee said in a text message.

Some of his clients say they were gang raped, beaten while being raped and forced to sexually abuse each other. Staff members also are accused of choking children, beating them unconscious, burning them with cigarettes and breaking their bones.

Under the current settlement fund, victims of sexual assault are eligible for up to $1.5 million, while payments for physical abuse are limited to $150,000. Under the new proposal, victims of “egregious sexual abuse” would be eligible for up to $2.5 million, victims of non-sexual abuse could get up to $250,000 and those claiming solitary confinement could get up to $100,000. The filing period for claims would be extended by six months to June 30, 2025.

While the changes would almost certainly result in total payouts exceeding the current $100 million, the bill also calls for allowing the fund’s administrator to require settlements to be paid in yearly increments instead of lump sums. So far, 307 claims have been filed and 102 have been settled, with an average award of $492,000, Formella said.

One of the current claimants, Brett Malcolm, sent the committee a letter in which he described the process as a “nightmare.” At one point, a representative from the attorney general’s office questioned whether he was eligible because his alleged abuse happened not at the detention center but at a state-run residential facility for children with educational and behavioral problems.

“Because I was a kid with emotional challenges, instead of a kid who committed a crime, what happened to me doesn’t matter? Hearing that was incredibly frustrating,” he wrote. “It made me feel like the State didn’t care about what happened to me, which is exactly how I felt when I was a kid being beaten and raped. The settlement fund experience made me feel like a victim again.”

Malcolm, who like Meehan has been public about his experiences, urged the committee to support the bill.

“Revisiting these memories is not easy for any of the victims, and we want to believe the settlement fund process is on our side,” he wrote. “That’s what the proposed changes will do.”

While only 11 former youth center workers have been arrested, an Associated Press analysis of more than 1,000 lawsuits filed by former residents found hundreds of cases still eligible for possible prosecution. Formella’s office has declined to say whether more charges are coming but says the investigation remains active.

United States News

Associated Press

‘Catch-and-kill’ to be described to jurors as testimony resumes in hush money trial of Donald Trump

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime tabloid publisher was expected Tuesday to tell jurors about his efforts to help Donald Trump stifle unflattering stories during the 2016 campaign as testimony resumes in the historic hush money trial of the former president. David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who prosecutors say worked with Trump and […]

31 minutes ago

Associated Press

America’s child care crisis is holding back moms without college degrees

AUBURN, Wash. (AP) — After a series of lower-paying jobs, Nicole Slemp finally landed one she loved. She was a secretary for Washington’s child services department, a job that came with her own cubicle, and she had a knack for working with families in difficult situations. Slemp expected to return to work after having her […]

34 minutes ago

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday as some of the most prestigious U.S. universities sought to defuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas. More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who […]

3 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

4 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Trial opens for former Virginia hospital medical director accused of sexual abuse of ex-patients

NEW KENT, Va. (AP) — The former longtime medical director of a Virginia hospital that serves vulnerable children used physical examinations as a “ruse” to sexually abuse two teenage patients, a prosecutor said Monday, while the physician’s attorney “adamantly” denied any inappropriate conduct. The trial of Daniel N. Davidow of Richmond, who for decades served […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

New Hampshire considers greatly expanding scope of settlement fund for youth center abuse victims