Judge Denies Request to Discard $38M Verdict in New Hampshire Youth Center Abuse Case

The judge who oversaw a landmark trial about New Hampshire’s youth detention center has refused to discard the $38 million verdict, saying the facility’s leadership “either knew and didn’t care or didn’t care to learn the truth” about endemic physical and sexual abuse.

A jury earlier this month sided with David Meehan, who alleged he was repeatedly raped, beaten and held in solitary confinement at the Youth Development Center in the 1990s. The attorney general’s office is seeking to drastically reduce the award. While that issue remains unsettled, the state also asked Judge Andrew Schulman to nullify the verdict and issue a judgment in its favor.

In a motion filed last week, attorneys for the state again argued that Meehan waited too long to sue and that he failed to prove that the state’s negligence led to abuse. Schulman swiftly denied the motion, ruling in less than 24 hours that Meehan’s claims were timely under an exception to the statute of limitations, and that Meehan had proven “beyond doubt” that the state breached its duty of care with respect to staff training, supervision and discipline.

According to Schulman, a jury could easily have found that the facility’s leadership “was, at best, willfully blind to entrenched and endemic customs and practices” that included frequent sexual and physical assaults as well as “constant emotional abuse of residents.”

“Maybe there is more to the story, but based on the trial record liability for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty was proven to a geometric certainty,” he wrote.

Michael Garrity, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Wednesday that the motion was intended to preserve the arguments the state made at trial for any appeal.

Meehan, 42, went to police in 2017 and sued the state three years later. Since then, 11 former state workers have been arrested and more than 1,100 other former residents of what is now called the Sununu Youth Services Center have filed lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse spanning six decades. Charges against one former worker, Frank Davis, were dropped earlier this month after the 82-year-old was found incompetent to stand trial.

Meehan’s lawsuit was the first to go to trial. Over four weeks, his attorneys contended that the state encouraged a culture of abuse marked by pervasive brutality, corruption and a code of silence. The state portrayed Meehan as a violent child, troublemaking teenager and delusional adult lying to get money.

Jurors awarded him $18 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in enhanced damages, but when asked the number of incidents for which the state was liable, they wrote “one.” That trigged the state’s request to reduce the award under a state law that allows claimants against the state to get a maximum of $475,000 per incident.

Meehan’s lawyers say multiple emails they’ve received from distraught jurors showed the jury misunderstood that question on the jury form. They filed a motion Monday asking Schulman to set aside just the portion of the verdict where jurors wrote “one” incident, allowing the $38 million to stand. As an alternative, the judge could order a new trial only on the number of incidents, or could offer the state the option of agreeing to an increase in the number of incidents, they wrote.

Two weeks ago, Schulman denied a request from Meehan’s lawyers to reconvene and poll the jury, but said he was open to other options to address the disputed verdict. A hearing is scheduled for June 24.