‘No rats:’ Reporting YDC abuse led to retaliation, former staffers tell jurors



Published: 04-11-2024 11:40 AM

Two former staff at New Hampshire’s Youth Development Center (YDC) testified in court Wednesday that the facility was a “horrendous nightmare,” where management instructed staff to never believe kids over employees, and where staff wore stickers that read, “no rats.”

The state, meanwhile, raised concerns about the accuracy of the witnesses’ memories and whether their testimony has been tailored to fit the narrative put forward by the plaintiff’s attorneys or because of prior disputes with YDC staff now accused of abuse.

The witnesses took the stand on the second day of the first civil trial stemming from hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual, physical, and psychological child abuse at the state’s juvenile jail and other state-contracted facilities for youth over the last 60 years.

The plaintiff, David Meehan, alleges he was severely abused by staff at the former YDC in the mid 1990s, and that the state of New Hampshire is to blame for their poor oversight of the facility – known as the Sununu Youth Services Center since 2006.

Karen Lemoine, a former YDC staffer, who worked there from 1989 to 1991, a few years before Meehan arrived, testified she reported signs of abuse to management on multiple occasions, but her supervisors brushed her off.

She said this included moments where she had filed written reports in a complaint box that were then read by supervisors.

“On more than one occasion, they took them, crumpled them up in front of me and then threw it at me,” said Lemoine.

Lemoine testified other staff viewed her as a troublemaker for filing complaints and referred to her as a “rat.”

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She says a group of staff plotted to have children at YDC sexually assault her in retaliation. She testified an internal investigation resulted in an apology from one staffer, but no further disciplinary action.

Lemoine also claimed YDC staff routinely humiliated children at the facility with profanities and racial slurs, used solitary confinement in a “suicide watch” room as punishment, and bribed some residents to attack others.

On cross-examination, Catherine Denny, an assistant attorney general, raised questions about whether Lemoine was embellishing her testimony.

Denny noted Lemoine had shared a suspicion with criminal investigators that she’d been poisoned by other YDC staff, but could not provide a medical diagnosis to corroborate it.

She also noted that Lemoine had not mentioned some YDC supervisors, including Ron Adams, a former YDC superintendent, when she spoke to state police who are investigating the child abuse allegations.

“During your conversations with criminal investigators, you never mentioned Ron Adams at all,” said Denny. “Not one time, not his name – never mentioned.”

The questions highlighted the dual role of the state, which is criminally investigating allegations of child abuse at YDC, while simultaneously defending against civil lawsuits related to those allegations.

Karen Lemoine’s son, Gerard Lemoine, who is now a police officer in Caribou, Maine, testified he remembered his mother talking about possible abuse at YDC when he was just 15 years old.

“She was very troubled about it,” he said. Gerard Lemoine also said he recalled his mother speaking about trying to complain to supervisors at YDC. “The more that she tried,” he said, “the more resistance she got.”

Attorneys for the state unsuccessfully attempted to exclude Gerard’s testimony and also unsuccessfully asked the judge to not allow the jurors to know he is employed as a police officer.

Another witness, Wayne Eigabroadt, worked at YDC and a similar facility in Concord known as the Youth Detention Services Unit (YDSU). He was also a part-time police officer and taught at the state’s Police Standards and Trainings Council, which trains officers.

Eigabroadt says he was hired at YDC in 1996 to implement a training program, but says he encountered significant resistance from YDC staff to being trained.

When he brought this concern to the then-superintendent Ron Adams, Eigabroadt says Adams told him, “‘Back when this was a working farm is when I first came to work here.’ He said, ‘We worked right out there in that field.’ And he said, ‘My supervisor brought me out to the field and pointed at the kids and said, ‘If any one of these kids gives you any shit, beat the fuck out of them.’’”

Eigabroadt says he understood it to mean that Adams did not care if staff came to trainings.

Eigabroadt also testified that Adams told him, “You can never take a resident's word over a staff person’s.”

In cross examination, attorneys for the state raised questions about whether Eigabroadt’s testimony was influenced by disputes he had with other former YDC staffers.