Former teacher at New Hampshire youth detention center testifies about bruised teens


BRENTWOOD, N.H. (AP) — A former teacher at New Hampshire’s youth detention center testified Monday that she reported suspicious bruises on at least half a dozen teenage boys in the 1990s, including the former resident who filed a landmark lawsuit against the state.

Brenda Wouters, who taught social studies at the Sununu Youth Services Center for 35 years, was the final witness called by David Meehan, who is seeking to hold the state accountable for physical, sexual and emotional abuse he says he suffered as a teen. Since he went to police in 2017, 11 former state workers have been arrested, and more than 1,100 former residents of the Manchester facility have filed lawsuits alleging six decades of abuse.

Wouters, who retired in 2022, said during the civil trial that she remembered Meehan growing sullen and withdrawn during his three years at what was then called the Youth Development Center. He had a black eye twice, she said. Another time, she asked him to lift up his shirt after she caught a glimpse of bruising and saw a “rainbow” of bruises along his torso.

Other teens showed up to school with marks on their necks and arms, Wouters said. The whites of one boy’s eyes were “beet red,” she said.

“The reddest eyes I’ve ever seen short of watching a Dracula film,” she said.

Wouters also described teens telling her about being forced to fight. Staff pitted stronger kids against more fragile ones.

“Then they would encourage those kids to go ahead and fight with each other almost to the death until whomever was being the loser would then comply with whatever the staff wanted,” she said.

Wouters said when she approached residential staff, they brushed her off. She said she told her boss, and on multiple occasions, called the state Division of Children, Youth and Families, but there was no follow-up that she saw.

Under questioning from the state’s attorney, however, Wouters acknowledged that she never witnessed abuse, nor did she file any written complaints. Shown progress reports from the 1990s, she also acknowledged that Meehan was only in her class during the spring of 1996, a time when he does not allege abuse. But she said she would’ve still interacted with him after that.

Lawyers for the state will begin presenting their side on Tuesday, the trial’s 15th day. In opening arguments earlier this month, they argued the state is not liable for the actions of “rogue” employees, and in questioning Meehan’s witnesses, suggested he is lying to get money. The state also contends he waited too long to file his lawsuit. The statute of limitations for such lawsuits is three years from the date of injury, though there are exceptions in cases when victims were not aware of its link to the wrongful party.

After the jury was dismissed for the day Monday, Assistant Attorney General Brandon Chase asked the judge to issue a verdict in the state’s favor based on the statute of limitations argument.

Judge Andrew Schulman denied that request, saying the jury will decide. Though he said it might be a “close call” as to when Meehan realized as an adult he might have a claim against the state, he said it was unreasonable to believe he made that connection while at the facility or soon after. Schulman said when he visited the facility with jurors at the start of the trial, he spent some time in Meehan’s former room, looking out the window.

“It occurred to me while I was there, this is the kid’s eye view,” he said. “You don’t have a very wide view of the world.”

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