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Jury foreperson in New Hampshire youth center abuse trial ‘devastated’ that award could be slashed


CONCORD, N.H. — Attorneys for a New Hampshire man who prevailed in a landmark lawsuit over abuse at a state-run youth detention center are asking for a hearing after the jury foreperson expressed dismay that the $38 million award could be slashed to $475,000.

Jurors on Friday awarded $18 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in enhanced damages to David Meehan, who alleged that the state’s negligence allowed him to be repeatedly raped, beaten and held in solitary confinement as a teenager at the Youth Development Center in Manchester. But the attorney general’s office said the award would be reduced under a state law that allows claimants against the state to recover a maximum of $475,000 per incident.

“I’m so sorry. I’m absolutely devastated,” the jury foreperson wrote to attorney Rus Rilee on Friday evening, according to the hearing request filed Saturday.

Jurors were not told of the cap, but they were asked how many incidents it found Meehan had proven. They wrote “one,” but the completed form does not indicate whether they found a single instance of abuse or grouped all of Meehan’s allegations together.

“We had no idea,” the jury foreperson wrote. “Had we known that the settlement amount was to be on a per incident basis, I assure you, our outcome would have reflected it. I pray that Mr. Meehan realizes this and is made as whole as he can possibly be within a proper amount of time.”

After consulting with outside counsel with expertise in post-trial matters, Rilee and attorney David Vicinanzo requested that a hearing be held Monday. According to their request, Rilee did not see the email from the juror until Saturday and did not reply.

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 the Youth Development Center in Manchester have filed lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse spanning six decades.

Meehan’s lawsuit was the first to be filed and the first to go to trial. After four weeks of testimony, jurors returned a verdict in under three hours.

Over the course of the trial, Meehan’s attorneys accused the state of encouraging a culture of abuse marked by pervasive brutality, corruption and a code of silence. They called more than a dozen witnesses to the stand, including former staffers who said they faced resistance and even threats when they raised or investigated concerns, a former resident who described being gang-raped in a stairwell, and a teacher who said she spotted suspicious bruises on Meehan and half a dozen other boys.

The state argued it was not liable for the conduct of rogue employees and that Meehan waited too long to sue. Its witnesses included Meehan’s father, who answered “yes” when asked whether his son had “a reputation for untruthfulness.” Others who testified included a longtime youth center principal who said she saw no signs of abuse over four decades and a psychiatrist who diagnosed Meehan with bipolar disorder, not the post-traumatic stress disorder claimed by his side.

In cross-examining Meehan, attorneys for the state portrayed him as a violent child who continued to cause trouble at the youth center — and a delusional adult who is exaggerates or lies to get money. The approach highlighted an unusual dynamic in which the attorney general’s office is both defending the state against the civil lawsuits and prosecuting suspected perpetrators in the criminal cases.



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