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A former youth detention center resident testifies about 'hit squad' attack

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A former youth detention center resident testifies about 'hit squad' attack
April 16, 2024
HOLLY RAMER - AP

BRENTWOOD, N.H. (AP) — A former resident of New Hampshire’s youth detention center testified Thursday that his house leader and another staffer restrained him a stairwell while two other workers sexually assaulted him.

The four members of what he and other teens called “the hit squad” then carried him back to his room and tossed him in, he said.

“It felt like I hovered over and watched it,” Michael Gilpatrick said, wiping away tears in Rockingham Superior Court. “My body just went blank.”

Gilpatrick, 40, was the first former resident to testify at the first civil trial seeking to hold the state accountable for alleged abuse at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center. The three years he spent at the Manchester facility in the late 1990s overlapped with the plaintiff, David Meehan, who alleges the state’s negligence in hiring, staffing and training led to the near-daily rapes, beatings and long stints in solitary confinement he endured. The state, however, argues it was not responsible for the actions of what it calls “rogue” employees.

Meehan has yet to take the witness stand in the trial, which began last week and has included testimony from multiple former workers. He and Gilpatrick, who will continue testifying on Wednesday, are among more than 1,100 former residents who have sued the state. Eleven former state workers are facing criminal charges, including several who are accused of abusing Gilpatrick and Meehan.

Meehan’s lawyers displayed police booking photos Tuesday of the so-called “hit squad” alongside a photo taken of Gilpatrick when he arrived at the center at age 14.

“The four of them used to roll together, and they would go to different cottages and beat kids,” he said. “They would literally come over and just go door to door and beat every single one of us, down the line.”

“They were grown men, and we were children, and they would literally swipe us to the ground, bang our heads off the floor, twist our arms behind our backs,” he said. “Anything they felt like doing, they did.”

Gilpatrick testified that he ended up at the center after running away from multiple group homes, committing a burglary and stealing food to survive on the street. The sexual assault on the stairwell happened after he ran away while on a furlough, he said. He had already spent several days locked in his empty room wearing only his underwear when the workers brought him to the house leader’s office and then the stairwell, he said.

Gilpatrick said he referred to the house leader, Bradley Asbury, as “Hitler.”

“He was a very bad man,” he said. “Not only did he have power over all the kids, he had power over the staff as well.”

Asbury has pleaded not guilty to charges of being an accomplice to Gilpatrick's assault. Earlier Tuesday, jurors heard from a former ombudsman who said Asbury was particularly resistant to her attempts to investigate complaints and demanded to be present during any interviews with his staff.

“He definitely sent a message to the students and staff that I was not going to be looking into anything there, and if I did he’d micromanage the process,” said Rochelle Edmark, who started her job just before Meehan left the facility.

Edmark testified that she often felt like staffers stonewalled her investigations, and administrators failed to act on her recommendations. Lawyers for the state, however, suggested statements she made to investigators in the criminal case painted a different picture.

“They didn’t micromanage you, they weren’t contentious with you, they would check in with you for periodic updates and they would compliment your work,” said attorney Martha Gaythwaite.

Gaythwaite also pushed back against Edmark’s testimony that the residential cottages did not provide a therapeutic environment, noting that residents were provided individual and group therapy.

“My concern was with the tone in the cottages more than the services provided,” Edmark 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. Since Meehan went to police in 2017, lawmakers have approved closing the facility, which now only houses those accused or convicted of the most serious violent crimes and replacing it with a much smaller building in a new location. They also created a $100 million fund to settle abuse claims.

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