Citing ‘foot-dragging,’ 450 YDC abuse victims want their cases to move forward
Up to 200 more cases expected to be filed in coming weeks
The men and women suing the state alleging they were sexually and physically abused while incarcerated at the Youth Development Center in Manchester as minors have asked the court to allow their cases to go forward.
The 450 plaintiffs filed a motion to lift the stay the court imposed in February. The lawyers expect to file another 150 to 200 cases in the coming weeks. The motion cites incidents at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center, in Manchester as well as the Nashua Children’s Home, Mount Prospect Academy in Plymouth, and an Easter Seals facility called the Jolicoeur School in Manchester.
“The state has engaged in foot-dragging recently, and each of the hundreds of victims are asserting their constitutional right to prompt justice,” said Nixon Peabody Attorney David Vicinanzo, who is representing the plaintiffs with Attorney Rus Rilee.
“The court needed a brief stay to get its arms around the sheer number of cases, but it is time to move forward with discovery and trial preparation. The state opposes the request to move the cases forward. However, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’” Vicinanzo said.
Michael Garrity, Attorney General John Formella’s spokesman, said that “any suggestion that the Attorney General’s Office is ‘dragging its feet’ or ‘trying to pay out as little as possible’ is categorically false. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been attempting to work with plaintiffs’ counsel in good faith and are disappointed by this inflammatory and unnecessary filing.”
Earlier this month, the Legislature approved a $100 million fund to compensate those who were abused as children at the Youth Development Center, which has been the target of a criminal investigation since 2019. Ten of its former workers and an 11th who worked at a Concord detention facility were arrested last year, and nearly 450 former residents have sued the state based on allegations involving more than 150 staffers from 1963 to 2018. Vicinanzo has criticized the fund.
‘Robbed of their childhoods’
In the motion, the plaintiffs say they want to move forward with their cases immediately following the June 29 structuring conference.
“Each and every one of the Plaintiffs was placed in the care and custody of the Defendants to be protected from harm and given a better chance at succeeding in society,” the motion states. “Instead, through the actions of the Defendants in these matters, Plaintiffs were robbed of their childhoods and left with lifelong physical and emotional scars. The stories these individuals tell reveal unimaginable wrongs, including brutal rapes, forced abortions, broken bones, and weeks on end of isolation where individuals were at times shackled and forced to urinate and defecate, without a toilet, in the same room in which they slept.”
Some remain illiterate to this day because they were deprived of their right to an education, according to the motion.
Brutal acts of child abuse are still occurring at youth facilities operated by the state to this day, according to the motion.
“Less than two weeks ago, a child was beaten while handcuffed in his room and had to wait for hours before being taken to Catholic Medical Center with lacerations and a dislocated shoulder. Clearly, until the state is forced to face the truth about its actions and inactions, real change and decent treatment of those committed to New Hampshire’s Youth Facilities will not happen,” the motion states.
It has been more than five years since the first survivor of abuse at the state’s Youth Facilities reported his experience to authorities.
After Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s confirmation to the NH Supreme Court in early 2021, things changed under Formella’s leadership, the motion states.
“Since that time, discussions with the Attorney General stalled, and the state began to adopt tactics seemingly calculated to delay, if not outright deny, justice for the survivors,” the motion states.
The motion also criticizes the slow movement on the prosecution of former state employees accused in connection with the abuse.
“As of the date of this filing, none of the criminal defendants have been convicted, nor have any of their cases proceeded to trial, and no further indictments have been made, despite an abundance of evidence of criminal wrongdoing by additional state employees well within the criminal statute of limitations,” the motion states.
It also criticizes lawmakers for their response.
“The New Hampshire legislature’s response to this tragedy has also been slow and underwhelming,” the motion states.
The $100 million fund contained in a bill that was ultimately signed into law in May “falls well short of the ‘victim-centered, trauma informed’ legislation that the Attorney General and legislators had promised and forces survivors to give up their rights for the mere chance to explore their options in this process,” according to the motion.