Lawyer defending New Hampshire in youth center abuse trial attacks former resident's credibility

BRENTWOOD, N.H. (AP) — A lawyer defending the state of New Hampshire against abuse allegations at its youth detention center attacked the plaintiff’s credibility Monday, suggesting he was a troublemaker who was appropriately punished as a teen and is now a delusional adult seeking a payout.

David Meehan, 42, who says he was repeatedly raped, beaten and locked in solitary confinement at the Youth Development Center in Manchester in the late 1990s, 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 former residents have filed lawsuits claiming the state’s negligence allowed abuse spanning six decades.

Meehan’s lawsuit was the first to go to trial earlier this month. He returned to the witness stand Monday to face further cross-examination by Martha Gaythwaite, a Maine lawyer representing the state along with several assistant attorneys general. She started by asking Meehan multiple questions about the crimes that landed him in the facility and his early experiences with gangs, sex and drugs.

“Back before you ever got to YDC, there were events in your life that were quite troubling,” she said. Meehan agreed with that statement, but denied any gang affiliation and said he lied as a teen about drugs and sex to appear tough.

“Were you giving disinformation then or are you giving disinformation now?” Gaythwaite asked.

“I was a child,” he answered.

Gaythwaite also tried to cast doubt on Meehan’s testimony that he contracted gonorrhea from being raped by a male staffer at age 15. She noted that he sought medical treatment after returning from a furlough “covered with hickeys” from his then-girlfriend, now wife. She questioned him at length about him being disciplined for going AWOL and planning to escape. And she showed him log books that described him injuring his groin playing football, not from a violent rape that involved being dragged outside and left on a field as he has described.

“You would agree, sir, that the record that was written at the time … while the events were taking place is more accurate than a 24-year-old memory?” she asked.

“These are not my words,” he said. “That’s not what happened.”

The line of questioning highlighted the unusual dynamic in which the attorney general’s office is both prosecuting former workers and defending the state against the allegations in the civil lawsuits. While one team of state lawyers will be relying on Meehan’s testimony in the criminal trials, another is trying to undermine his credibility in his civil trial.

Though she apologized several times for “having to ask these questions,” Gaythwaite pressed Meehan on his mental health history, including an incident in which his wife had him committed to a psychiatric facility.

“The same year, 2020, when you're out on the balcony screaming uncontrollably and telling people you thought you were royalty and a biblical figure, that is the same year that you filed this lawsuit against my client, the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming there was a widespread culture of abuse,” she said.

The state argues that not only should it not be held liable for the actions of “rogue” employees, but that Meehan waited too long to come forward. 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. Gaythwaite asked several questions suggesting he was aware of a possible claim against the state years before he sued, but he denied that was the case.

Throughout the day, Meehan answered questions calmly but grew emotional later when asked by his lawyer about the impact of having to describe the abuse to investigators, medical professionals, lawyers and now a jury.

"What, I’m the bad guy? I was a bad kid so I deserved it? Or I was a bad kid, so that proves I’m a bad man now, and I (expletive) it made it up?" he said. “That hurts.”