Lawyers win access to files in New Hampshire youth detention center abuse case

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Details of the criminal investigation into abuse at New Hampshire’s youth detention center must be shared with attorneys for former residents who have sued the state, a judge ruled.

Judge Andrew Schulman granted a motion Monday seeking to force the criminal bureau of the attorney general’s office and state police to comply with a subpoena issued by lawyers for close to 1,000 men and women who say they were physically, sexually or emotionally abused as children at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester.

The facility, formerly called the Youth Development Center, has been under criminal investigation since 2019. Ten former workers have been charged with either sexually assaulting or acting as accomplices to the assault of more than a dozen teenagers from 1994 to 2007, and an 11th man faces charges related to a pretrial facility in Concord. Some of their trials had been scheduled to start as early as this fall, but in his latest ruling, Schulman said none would happen for at least a year.

His ruling gives the state 10 days either to provide attorneys with roughly 35,000 pages of investigative reports or to give them electronic access to the files. Only the attorneys and their staff will have access to them, the order states.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office, Michael Garrity, said Tuesday officials were reviewing the ruling and would respond in court. Garrity also said some of the criminal trials could be scheduled during the first half of 2024.

The plaintiffs' attorney, who has accused the state of delaying both the criminal and civil proceedings, praised the judge's decision.

“We anticipate that these documents will not only assist us in corroborating our clients’ claims of systemic governmental child abuse, but will also help us to understand why hundreds of abusers and enablers have yet to be indicted and arrested for decades of abuse," lawyer Rus Rilee said.

The youth center, which once housed upward of 100 children but now typically serves fewer than a dozen, is named for former Gov. John H. Sununu, father of current Gov. Chris Sununu. Lawmakers have approved closing it and replacing it with a much smaller facility, likely in a new location.