Juror in New Hampshire youth center abuse trial voices concern over $38M verdict

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  • A juror from a landmark lawsuit over abuse at a New Hampshire youth detention center has challenged the state’s interpretation of the verdict.
  • Jurors awarded $38 million in damages to David Meehan, who alleged negligence led to repeated abuse at the Youth Development Center in Manchester.
  • The state intends to cap the payment at $475,000 per “incident,” but jurors were allegedly not informed of this cap.

One of the jurors who awarded a New Hampshire man $38 million in a landmark lawsuit over abuse at the state’s youth detention center says the state is misinterpreting the verdict by capping the payment at $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.”

Jurors were not told of the cap. When asked on a verdict form how many incidents they found Meehan had proven, they wrote “one.” The completed form does not indicate whether they found a single instance of abuse or grouped all of Meehan’s allegations together, but one of the jurors emailed Meehan’s attorney on Sunday to explain their reasoning.

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“We wrote on our verdict form that there was 1 incident/injury, being complex PTSD, from the result of 100+ injuries (Sexual, Physical, emotional abuse),” the juror wrote, according to court documents filed Sunday by Meehan’s attorneys. “We were never informed of a cap being placed per incident of abuse and that is wrong how the question was worded to us.

David Meehan

Plaintiff David Meehan, center, leaves the courtroom with his attorney Rus Rilee, right, and victim specialist Joelle Wiggin during Meehan’s trial at Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood, New Hampshire, on April 10, 2024. (David Lane/Pool Photo via AP)

“The state is making their own interpretation of the ruling that we made, and that is not right for them to assume our position,” the juror wrote. “David should be entitled to what we awarded him, which was $38 million.”

Meehan’s attorneys have asked the judge in the case to hold an emergency hearing on the matter Monday and have brought in former state Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks to help make their case.

Attorneys for the state had not responded to the request for a hearing by Sunday evening, and Michael Garrity, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment other than pointing to Friday’s statement about the cap.

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In their motion, Meehan’s attorneys said the juror’s email statement and others sent by the jury foreperson confirm that jurors misunderstood the verdict form. The attorneys said that the finding of only one proven “incident” is “conclusively against the weight of the evidence” and logically inconsistent with the damages awarded.

In such circumstances, the court “not only has broad discretion, but is in fact duty-bound to take corrective action,” they wrote. The attorneys cited past cases in which judges questioned juries and then directed them to reconsider their verdicts.

The jury foreperson emailed one of Meehan’s attorneys Rus Rilee, within hours of the verdict, saying, “I’m absolutely devastated.” The next morning, the foreperson sent a message to attorney David Vicinanzo saying, “My guilt kept me awake for the better part of the night.”

“I was literally sickened and brought to tears in fear of the mistake we made. I still am,” the juror wrote.

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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 have filed lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse spanning six decades.

Meehan’s lawsuit was the first to go to trial. Over the course of four weeks, Meehan’s attorneys contended that the state encouraged a culture of abuse marked by pervasive brutality, corruption and a code of silence.

The state argued it was not liable for the conduct of rogue employees and that Meehan waited too long to sue. In cross-examining Meehan, attorneys for the state portrayed him as a violent child who caused trouble at the youth center — and as a delusional adult who exaggerates or lies to get money.

The case 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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