CONCORD -- Two former counselors at the Youth Development Center in Manchester face dozens of charges related to the sexual assault of a child in YDC custody dating back to 1997.
The two were named in Hillsborough County grand jury indictments released Thursday.
News of the charges have triggered outrage from politicians and child advocates who describe the allegations as "shocking'' and "sickening.''
Jeffrey Buskey, 52, of 12 Castlerock St., Dorchester, Mass. was indicted by a Hillsborough County grand jury on a total of 56 indictments charging him with Aggravated Felonious Sexual Assault, between Oct. 26, 1997 and Sept. 30, 1998.
Steven Murphy, 50, of 15 Crestline Circle, Danvers, Mass. was indicated on a total of 26 indictments charging him with Aggravated Felonious Sexual Assault, between October 26, 1997 and September 30, 1998.
Neither man could be reached for comment by the Union Leader.
The indictments against Buskey say he allegedly used his "superior physical strength, physical force or physical violence '' to force the victim into sexual encounters.
Murphy's indictment alleges he sexually assaulted the victim, who was at least 13 years old but under age 18, by using his position of authority to coerce the victim.
No arraignment date in Hillsborough Superior Court has been scheduled as yet.
The alleged sexual assaults occurred while Buskey and Murphy worked as youth counselors at the Youth Development Center in Manchester and involve a victim who was a minor in the custody of the YDC at the time of the offenses, according to a press release from the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office..
Based on the scope and complexity of this matter and because it involves alleged criminal conduct at a state agency by state employees, the Attorney General’s Office has today assumed the prosecution of these cases.
"This Office is also launching a comprehensive, multi-faceted investigation of the YDC and the personnel employed at that agency. The investigation will initially focus on a time frame between 1990 and 2000,'' according to the press release.
The investigation will probe whether additional juveniles were subjected to physical or sexual violence at the YDC in this time frame, as well as whether there was conduct of endangering the welfare of a child and violations of Obstructing Governmental Operations. The AG's office will also investigate any other crimes as dictated by the evidence.
Any person with information regarding criminal conduct at the YDC is urged to contact Investigator James Kinney at the Attorney General’s Office at (603) 271-1258 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Describing the allegations as "shocking,'' Madison Lightfoot, of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, said the children at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly the YDC, are among "the most vulnerable populations in the state...and we are deeply disturbed by these indictments.''
Gov. Chris Sununu responded to the indictments saying, “The incidents that are alleged to have occurred over 20 years ago are sickening, and the State of New Hampshire stands ready to assist and cooperate in any investigation that will bring these detestable perpetrators to justice. I am confident that the Attorney General’s Office will aggressively pursue this case – zero tolerance means zero tolerance.”
Jeffrey A. Meyer, commissioner of the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, said the charges are "shocking'' to the leadership and staff of the facility and his agency. The alleged conduct described in the indictments is " unconscionable, and the victims of this conduct deserve justice.''
Meyer said his agency cooperated and will continue to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of these charges.
Meyer noted his agency has worked to assure the safety of youth at SYSC, including meeting the federal guidelines under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The current policies and systems in place at the facility are designed to protect youth who in state care.
"All of the leadership and staff at SYSC and the Department are committed to the safety of our youth and to our continuing efforts to prevent the conduct that occurred some 25 years ago,'' he said.
Lightfoot added, ''Most children ordered to youth detentions centers have experienced trauma in their childhood, and that the more trauma a child experiences, the more vulnerable they become to future victimization.''
Perpetrators often target victims who have already been groomed by abusers, or who they think are unlikely to be believed if they disclose the abuse, she said.
"We stand with these young victims and their families, and would like to remind all Granite Staters they’re not alone. When violence and abuse happen in our communities, we are all impacted,'' she said.
"...We are deeply disturbed by these indictments,'' said Amanda Grady Sexton Director of Public Affairs, for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "Intervening and holding offenders and institutions accountable is paramount in our fight to end child abuse and sexual violence.”
It's not the first time a Sununu Youth Services Center counselor has made headlines.
In May 2018, former SYSC counselor Kirstie Bean, 26, of Concord, pleaded guilty in Merrimack Superior Court to sexual assault and witness tampering for telling her teenage romance not to talk about their relationship after learning police were investigating, according to the Concord Monitor.
Bean was accused of of sexually assaulting a then 15-year-old detainee in between 2015 and 2016.
Bean was sentenced to one year in county jail, with a portion of her sentence being served under home confinement. She was required to register as a sex officer for 10 years. In exchange for her guilty plea, prosecutors dropped 22 sexual assault charges, the newspaper reports.
Free crisis center services are available to anyone who has experienced or witnessed abuse, or who is looking to find ways to support someone who has. To speak with an advocate, please call the statewide domestic violence hotline at 1-866-644-3574 or the statewide sexual assault hotline at 1-800-277-5570 or find the crisis center nearest you at https://www.nhcadsv.org/member-programs.html.