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Former resident of New Hampshire youth center describes difficult aftermath of abuse

BRENTWOOD, N.H. — A man who says he was beaten and raped as a teen at New Hampshire’s youth detention center testified Friday that he both tried to take his own life and plotted to kill his abusers years later before speaking up.

David Meehan, who spent three years at the Youth Development Center in the late 1990s, went to police in 2017 and sued the state three years later. Testifying for a third day in his civil trial, he described his life’s downward spiral after leaving the facility, including a burglary committed to feed a heroin addiction and multiple suicide attempts. He said he stopped using drugs after a 2012 jail stint but was barely functioning when he woke up from hernia surgery in 2017, overwhelmed with memories of his abuse.

“I go home, I heal up a little bit, and the moment I know I’m stronger, I walk out on my wife and my kids,” he said. “Because this time, I really think I’m capable of taking the life of Jeff Buskey.”

Buskey and 10 other former state workers have pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually assaulting or acting as accomplices to the assault of Meehan and other former residents. Meehan, who alleges in his lawsuit that he endured near-daily assaults, testified that he tracked down his alleged abusers more than a decade later and even bought a gun with the intent to kill Buskey, but threw it in a river and confided in his wife instead.

“That’s not who I am,” he said. “I’m not going to be what they thought they could turn me into. I’m not going to take another life because of what they did.”

Meehan’s wife took him to a hospital, where he was referred to police. That sparked an unprecedented criminal investigation into the Manchester facility, now called the Sununu Youth Services Center. But at the same time as it prosecutes former workers, the state also is defending itself against more than 1,100 lawsuits filed by former residents alleging that its negligence allowed abuse to occur.

One group of state lawyers will be relying on the testimony of former residents in the criminal trials while others seek to discredit them in the civil cases, an unusual dynamic that played out as Meehan faced cross-examination Friday.

“You were an angry and violent young man, weren’t you?” asked Attorney Martha Gaythwaite, who showed jurors a report concluding that Meehan falsely accused his parents of physical abuse when they tried to enforce rules. Meehan disagreed. Earlier, he testified that his mother attacked him and burned him with cigarettes.

Gaythwaite also pressed Meehan on his disciplinary record at the youth center, including a time a boy he punched fell and split his head open. According to the center’s internal reports, Meehan later planned to take that boy hostage with a stolen screwdriver as part of an escape attempt.

“It’s fair to say someone who had already been the victim of one of your vicious assaults might not be too enthusiastic about being held hostage by you as part of an AWOL attempt, correct?” she asked.

Meehan has said that the escape plan occurred at a time when Buskey was raping him every day, while another staffer assaulted him roughly twice a week. The abuse became more violent when he began fighting back, Meehan said. And though he later was submissive, “It never became easier,” he said.

“Every one of these takes a little piece of me to the point when they’re done, there’s really not much left of David anymore,” he said.

Meehan also testified that he spent weeks locked in his room for 23 hours a day, hidden from view while his injuries healed. Under questioning from Gaythwaite, Meehan reviewed a report in which an ombudsman said he saw no signs of injuries, however.

Meehan, who suggested the investigator lied, said his few attempts to get help were rebuffed. When he told a house leader that he had been raped, the staffer, who is now facing criminal charges, told him: “That doesn’t happen here, little fella.” Asked whether he ever filed a written complaint, he referred to instructions on the complaint forms that said residents were to bring all issues to their counselors.

“What am I going to do, write ‘Jeff Buskey is making me have sex with him,’ and hand it to Jeff Buskey?” he said.

The trial resumes Monday.

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