Ex-youth center resident testifies that counselor went from trusted father figure to horrific abuser

Youth Development Center plaintiff David Meehan gets sworn in before giving testimony in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool)

Youth Development Center plaintiff David Meehan gets sworn in before giving testimony in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool) David Lane

Attorney Rus Rilee, left, comforts his client, David Meehan, before Meehan took the stand in his civil trial against the Youth Development Center in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool)

Attorney Rus Rilee, left, comforts his client, David Meehan, before Meehan took the stand in his civil trial against the Youth Development Center in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool) David Lane

Youth Development Center. plaintiff David Meehan testifies as his intake photo, when he was 14 is displayed during his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool)

Youth Development Center. plaintiff David Meehan testifies as his intake photo, when he was 14 is displayed during his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool) David Lane

Plaintiff David Meehan listens to testimony of Michael Gilpatrick, a former youth detention center resident, during a civil trial seeking to hold the state accountable for alleged abuse at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. On the screen is so called

Plaintiff David Meehan listens to testimony of Michael Gilpatrick, a former youth detention center resident, during a civil trial seeking to hold the state accountable for alleged abuse at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. On the screen is so called "hit squad" members including Bradley Asbury, clockwise from to left, James Woodlock, Stephen Murphy and... David Lane

Youth Development Center plaintiff David Meehan walks out of the courtroom during a break in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool)

Youth Development Center plaintiff David Meehan walks out of the courtroom during a break in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool) David Lane

Youth Development Center plaintiff David Meehan testifies in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool)

Youth Development Center plaintiff David Meehan testifies in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (David Lane/Union Leader via AP, Pool) David Lane

By HOLLY RAMER

Associated Press

Published: 04-19-2024 12:31 PM

BRENTWOOD, N.H. — The man who blew the lid off decades of abuse allegations at New Hampshire’s youth detention center continued testifying at his civil trial Thursday, describing being treated for gonorrhea after being raped at age 15.

But the real turning point, he said, was the first of many assaults by a man he had grown to love as father figure.

In the seven years since David Meehan went to police, the state has set up a $100 million fund for former residents of the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester and brought criminal charges against 11 former state workers, including four accused of abusing Meehan.

But facing more than 1,100 lawsuits from former residents, the state also argues it should not be held liable for the actions of what it calls “rogue” employees.

That unusual dynamic began playing out as Meehan’s lawsuit –- the first to be filed — went to trial last week. On the witness stand for a second day Thursday, Meehan acknowledged lying on intake paperwork about having sexual experience before arriving at the facility in 1995 at age 14.

“Do you ever really just need to feel tough in any way that you can?” he asked jurors. “It was just another form of protection for my own survival.”

In reality, his first sexual experience came when a youth center staffer violently raped him under the guise of performing a strip search, he said. He later was quarantined in the infirmary for gonorrhea, he said.

“You lost your virginity to Frank Davis?” asked attorney Rus Rilee, referring to a former staffer who has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault charges.

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“I’m not going to accept that in my life anymore, so no,” Meehan said. “I was raped as a little boy by somebody who should not have been in a position to have been allowed to do that.”

Over the following months, Meehan said his assigned youth counselor, Jeffrey Buskey, began grooming him, giving him soda and snacks and arranging for him to play basketball with a local high school team.

“At that point, I have a father figure. I have a man in my life I felt a relationship with,” said Meehan, wiping away tears after his lawyer asked him if Buskey, who also has pleaded not guilty, treated him like a son.

“How I imagined I could be treated, yeah,” he said. “Better than my own dad.”

But that changed in the fall of 1997, when Buskey forced him to call his girlfriend and break up with her and then forced him to perform a sexual act, Meehan said.

“I am angry sitting here trying to talk about it and trying to control these emotions,” he said. “But that’s when it starts, OK? That’s when it starts.”

Within days, other staffers also began abusing him, said Meehan, whose lawsuit alleges he was raped hundreds of times over three years. He said Buskey told him he was “his,” but if others wanted something, he should go along.

“It went from being somebody I trusted, that I thought was not just there to help me, but somebody I thought cared for me, to hurt,” he said.

The youth center, which once housed upward of 100 children but now typically serves fewer than a dozen, is named for former Gov. John H. Sununu, father of current Gov. Chris Sununu. In recent years, lawmakers have approved closing the facility and replacing it with a much smaller building in a new location.

The trial ended early for the day after Meehan broke down describing an incident in which he said Buskey forced a girl to perform a sex act to “teach” Meehan what to do.

“This is the only the beginning, and I’m doing everything I can right now to try to hold myself together because I know where this is going. I don’t want to keep having to say it out loud,” said Meehan, adding that he often struggles to feel safe.

“I’m forced to try to hold myself together somehow and show as a man everything these people did to this little boy,” he said. “I’m constantly paying for what they did.”