Sununu Center

A New Hampshire House committee is calling for the closure of the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester

More than 200 people who were jailed as children at a state juvenile detention facility have joined a year-old lawsuit alleging they were victims of physical and sexual abuse.

When the lawsuit was filed in January 2020, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Rus Rilee, wrote in a court filing last month, only 35 people had come forward to allege abuse.

Over the last year, Rilee said Tuesday, another 200 people have come forward to say they were abused as children at the Youth Development Center, called the Sununu Youth Services Center since 2006.

Rilee said he now represents more than 230 people who say they were abused.

That group of plaintiffs is led by David Meehan, who said in court filings he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Youth Development Center staff, and was not believed when he tried to report the abuse.

In March 2020, about two months after the lawsuit was filed, the state Attorney General’s Office announced a renewed criminal investigation into the claims of abuse at the Youth Development Center, and a special task force of attorneys and state police is investigating.

Charges brought in 2019 against two men who were alleged to have abused children at the Youth Development Center were dropped in 2020 as the probe widened.

The task force is still investigating, Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said in a statement Tuesday.

“There are dedicated prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office as well as investigators from New Hampshire State Police who are working daily on this investigation,” Young said.

Young asked anyone with information about the Youth Development Center or the Sununu Youth Services Center to call the task force at 271-4000.

Rilee and the plaintiffs agreed to pause the civil suit in May to give space to the criminal investigation, but on Tuesday Rilee said the process was taking too long. After a year, he noted, there had been no new criminal indictments.

“My clients are now ready to move forward with the civil process,” Rilee said.

The more than 230 clients Rilee represents say they were abused between 1963 and 2018, Rilee said, when they were between 7 and 18 years old.

“Each and every one of these people came out of this facility as crime victims who were shamed, and embarrassed, and lacked skills that were supposed to have been provided by the facility,” Rilee said.

Abused and denied education, Rilee said, his clients’ time in the Youth Development Center left them unable to function as members of society and had led to substance abuse and crime.

“The state caused that,” Rilee said.

The state, in court filings, has asked the court to dismiss the claims against state agencies, and focus instead on the individual people who are alleged to have abused children at the Youth Development Center.

The state has also moved to dismiss the entire lawsuit, saying it would be too complicated to examine each allegation of abuse, and arguing that too much time had passed since Meehan’s alleged abuse.

In a statement, Joseph Ribsam, director of the state Division of Children, Youth and Families, said the Sununu Youth Services Center now protects the children in its care from physical and sexual abuse, and is cooperating with the criminal probe.

“These efforts reflect the commitment from the teams at SYSC (Sununu Youth Services Center) and DHHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) to the safety of the youth receiving services at the facility,” Ribsam said in a statement.

This story has been updated to correct the name of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.