New Hampshire’s state police and the attorney general’s criminal bureau were subpoenaed by the lawyers for hundreds of people who say they were abused at a state-run youth detention center and are now demanding information they say has been deliberately withheld.
Close to 850 men and women have sued the state since early 2020 alleging they were sexually, physically or emotionally abused as children at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center. The first lawsuit was filed six months after the state launched a broad criminal investigation into the facility in Manchester.
That case is not expected to go to trial until March 2024. Meanwhile, 10 former workers were charged in April 2021 with either sexually assaulting or acting as accomplices to the assault of more than a dozen teenagers from 1994 to 2007, while an 11th man faces charges related to a pre-trial facility in Concord. Six trials have been scheduled between this summer and July 2024.
The subpoenas delivered Wednesday order criminal bureau and state police officials to appear at a deposition on May 15 or provide all materials related to the investigation and prosecution of the former workers and any information disclosed to their defense lawyers.
Attorney Rus Rilee, who expects to file another 150 lawsuits soon, said his clients simply want access to the same information that has been given to their abusers. The lawsuits filed so far allege abuse by 150 staffers from 1960 to 2018, including gang rapes, forcing children to fight each other for food, and locking them in solitary confinement for weeks or months.
“It has become clear that the state has no real intention of prosecuting all of its abusive employees, so our clients’ only recourse is through the civil justice system, which the state is now abusing through embarrassing defenses, ridiculous denials and transparent delays,” Rilee said Thursday.
Multiple top New Hampshire officials have been subpoenaed in an investigation into sexual abuse that allegedly took place at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester.
Department of Justice spokesperson Michael Garrity said both the attorney general’s office and state police were reviewing the subpoenas “and will respond as appropriate.”
The development highlights the complexity associated with simultaneous civil cases against the state, and criminal proceedings against the accused workers.
The attorney general’s office says it has systems in place to build strong “ethical walls” to keep them completely separate. But legal experts, including the judge overseeing the civil lawsuits, have raised questions about the dynamic.
At a hearing last month, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman asked whether lawyers for the state would be contradicting each other at the separate trial.
“You seem to be saying it’s fine, if the person hasn’t been convicted yet, for the state to go to court, seek bail, put somebody on trial, stand up, tell the jury this guy committed aggravated felonious sexual assault on that day — and for the state of New Hampshire to come into a different courtroom and say, ‘Oh, no, that never happened. The person we called the victim in the other courtroom is a liar,’” Schulman said. “That seems incongruous to me.”
“I’m not saying that, your Honor,” replied Assistant Attorney General Brandon Chase.
Chase emphasized that he wasn’t privy to anything on the criminal side, and he argued that the civil bureau has “been very transparent” during the discovery process about what information it has been able to find. For example, state police recently retrieved 15 million items from the hard drives of more than 300 abandoned computers from the youth center’s basement.
“These are massive document requests. We are doing our best to obtain documents and produce them,” he said.
The youth center, which once housed upward of 100 children but now typically serves under a dozen, is named for former Gov. John H. Sununu, father of current Gov. Chris Sununu. Lawmakers have approved closing it and replacing it with a much smaller facility, likely in a new location.