8 more lawsuits with allegations of sexual and physical abuse at YDC and contracted facilities, including 1 operated by Catholic priests

Manchester Ink Link [Manchester NH]

October 5, 2022

By Pat Grossmith

Eight more lawsuits against the state were filed last week alleging sexual and physical assault of youth ordered detained by the state at Pine Haven Boys Center in Allenstown as a place where priests are accused of beating and sexually abusing them.

Also named in the lawsuits, filed in Merrimack County Superior Court, are the state-run Youth Development Center (YDC), now known as the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center, in Manchester, and The Philbrook School, a state facility for youths with mental health challenges.

John Doe #453, now 49, said in his filing that when he was brought before Judge Armand Capistran, who presided in Manchester District Court from 1979-1995, he told him of the abuse he suffered at both Pine Haven and YDC.  The judge, he said, called him a “brat” and did nothing about it.

The lawsuit details how John Doe #453 grew up in an abusive home plagued by alcohol abuse with a father who repeatedly beat him.  He tried to escape that brutal life by running away, skipping school and acting out in other ways.  

When he was 11-12 years of age, the state placed him at Pine Haven, a private nonprofit facility run by Somascan Fathers, an Italian order of Catholic priests.   

The plaintiffs have also filed lawsuits against Pine Haven.

Like his father, John Doe #435 alleges some of the priests were heavy drinkers, and they were physically, sexually and emotionally abusive.  At some point a Father Robert touched the child’s genitals and tried to get him to reciprocate, according to the lawsuit.  When the child resisted, he was beaten.  Afterward, the boy used a belt in an attempt hang himself.   He was pulled down before he succumbed.  He received no medical or mental health treatment.  Instead, he was placed in seclusion and made to write: “I will not try to harm myself” 300 times in a notepad.

A Father Albert, he alleges, also molested him by grabbing his genitals, taking out his own penis and trying to force John Doe #453 to copulate him. The youth punched the priest in the testicles and Father Albert then physically attacked him, and called for other staff. He accused the boy of assaulting him, and the staff restrained and beat him. 

John Doe #453 escaped from Pine Haven and made his way to Manchester, where he was picked up by police. He told officers about the beatings and sexual abuse. They took pictures of the bruising, and brought him before Judge Capistran who he told about the abuse.  Judge Capistran released him to the custody of his mother (by then, separated from his abusive father).

Later, he learned some of the Pine Haven priests were transferred out of the facility.  No one apologized to him or offered him any sympathy.  A former Pine Haven staff member who witnessed the abuse of the boys and spoke up in their defense, was fired.  He is available as a witness, according to the lawsuit.

The abuse at Pine Haven exacerbated John Doe #453’s already troubled emotional state, which was made even worse shortly after when he witnessed a woman being stabbed to death on a Manchester Street.  He received no mental health assistance and, predictably, his truancy continued. By age 13 or 14, he was back in state custody, this time at YDC.

According to the lawsuit, at YDC he was beaten many times by a variety of guards; Dick Brown, a huge weightlifter who reputedly benched 500 pounds, punched him more than 100 times. He alleges Dave Gagnon and “Brian” beat him repeatedly, giving him black eyes and sometimes dragging him by the hair and that Gagnon frequently gave cocaine to favored residents. Once, he walked in on them “doing lines” and Gagnon made the boy snort some himself to prevent him from telling, because then his own urine would be dirty, John Doe #453 alleges.

A guard known as “Miss P aka Linda” often came to work intoxicated, according to the lawsuit. She frequently forced groups of boys to strip naked, then laughed at them pointing to their genitals. She always smelled of alcohol. If she was in a foul mood or hungover, she sometimes took out her anger on certain boys. For instance, several times she pretended that an article of silverware was missing, and used that as an excuse to strip the boys down and lock them up in cells for days in a row. 

The lawsuit says certain staff forced some children to sexually abuse other child residents. This occurred in Spaulding, East and King cottages, and involved several staff, but most commonly was organized and overseen by “Searles,” who used it as a punitive tool to favor some boys and punish others, and because he obviously enjoyed it. He and others made boys orally or anally copulate each other.  Gordon Searles, 66, is one of 10 former state employees criminally charged in connection with the alleged sexual assault of detained youths.

John Doe #33, another alleged victim of abuse, grew up in an impoverished family in Raymond. His mother lost her husband and struggled to raise five children while supporting her family working several jobs 

 In 1974, their Raymond home was destroyed by fire. The family was displaced and took an apartment in Manchester. With his mother working constantly to provide necessities, John Doe #33—largely unsupervised for lack of child care—began fending for himself on the streets. He began skipping school and hanging with an unruly crowd of young boys. Before long, he appeared before Judge Capistran who placed him in the custody of the state until he reached majority. John Doe #33 was 11 years old. 

He was placed at YDC several times over a seven-year period.  According to the lawsuit, at YDC he was subjected to severe physical abuse by guards which included hundreds of beatings, resulting in black eyes, bruising, broken bones, being knocked unconscious and multiple trips to the hospital, in which he could not disclose the true source of the injuries for fear of retaliation from his abusers, who accompanied him.  

He was held in solitary confinement for weeks or months at a time, totaling more than a year or more in isolation. Often, the isolation followed a severe beating in which injuries were visible. The isolation—which prevented visits from his mother or other relatives— would continue until the bruising or black eyes had healed. During one particularly long period of solitary, Plaintiff attempted suicide, requiring treatment at Elliot Hospital. 

John Doe #33 said he was also the frequent victim of sexual assault. A guard raped him anally to punish him for walking away from the facility; another fondled his genitals more than a dozen times. A coach fondled his genitals numerous times while the coach masturbated. Staff used “pat searches” as a pretext to grab or fondle his genitals or rectal area. He was forced to submit to fellatio while handcuffed to his bed in Pinecrest Cottage. 

John Doe #33 also appeared periodically before Judge Capistran. He, too, told the judge about the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse he suffered at YDC. Judge Capistran never looked into his allegations, completely disregarding him as a “teenage brat.”

John Doe #33 said he has wondered for years how much abuse could have been prevented and children saved (numerous childhood friends of his at YDC have committed suicide arising from the abuse suffered there and at other facilities in state custody) if Judge Capistran had listened to him and investigated.  Capistran died in 2007 at the age of 81.

John Doe #33 also was sent to the Pine Haven Boys Center when he was 12 to 13 years old.  There, he said the abuse continued.

A Brother John, would carry a heavy metal ruler and direct a boy to his private quarters on threat of a beating. John Doe #33 was summoned on dozens of occasions and, once there, Brother John would perform fellatio on him while masturbating, he alleges in the lawsuit. Additionally, Brother John would penetrate Plaintiff’s anus digitally and bite his buttocks. 

He also was molested many times by a Father Albert who would make him shower and then fondle him and perform fellatio on him. Father Albert would also masturbate while watching Plaintiff naked in the shower. 

John Doe #33 eventually ran away from Pine Haven to escape the abuse. He informed Judge Capistran of the abuse at Pine Haven as well as YDC. Once again, the judge dismissed Plaintiff as a “brat” and refused to take any action.  

Attorneys Cyrus F. Rilee, III and David A. Vicinanzo are representing hundreds of people who say they were abused as children while in state custody.   The attorneys said there will be additional lawsuits filed in the future against the state based on sexual/physical abuse at various state and contracted facilities.

On Tuesday, Attorney General John M. Formella and the claimants’ attorneys have agreed to ask the New Hampshire Supreme Court to appoint the Honorable John Broderick Jr., as the independent, neutral Administrator of the State’s YDC Settlement Fund: YDC Claims Process | NH Department of Justice.

Formella said discussions with claimants’ counsel about administrator candidates were helpful and a productive step towards putting into effect the state’s $100 million-dollar YDC Settlement Claims Process.  The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee recently approved the settlement claims process as an alternative to litigation for victims seeking fair and efficient resolution of claims arising from abuse at New Hampshire’s former Youth Development Center.  If approved by the court, Broderick will oversee and administer that process.

“We recognize that traditional litigation can be difficult and even re-traumatizing for victims of crime—especially for victims of sexual abuse,” Formella said, “which is why we solicited feedback from claimants, their advocates, and victims’ rights groups in designing a victim-centered, trauma-informed alternative to litigation. We are confident that, if appointed, Chief Justice Broderick will serve as a thoughtful, impartial, and empathetic Administrator.” 

Broderick served on the New Hampshire Supreme Court from 1995 to 2010 after more than 20 years as a civil litigator in private practice.  His tenure on the high court was marked by efforts to improve access to the courts as well as expanded family, mental health, and drug courts.  He later served as Dean of UNH Law School.  He has worked since 2016 to raise mental health awareness across the state– most recently as Senior Director of External Affairs at Dartmouth Health, where he championed the R.E.A.C.T. campaign to identify, engage, and provide resources to those facing mental health challenges.

Any person with information regarding criminal conduct at the YDC is urged to contact the N.H. Attorney General’s YDC Task Force hotline at 603-271-4000.