Charges dropped as youth center abuse investigation widens

HOLLY RAMER
·3 min read
FILE - This Jan. 28, 2020, photo shows the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, N.H. On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his office is both expanding its investigation of sex abuse at the center, while dropping charges against two former workers accused of raping a teenage boy dozens of times in the 1990s. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
FILE - This Jan. 28, 2020, photo shows the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, N.H. On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his office is both expanding its investigation of sex abuse at the center, while dropping charges against two former workers accused of raping a teenage boy dozens of times in the 1990s. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire attorney general's office said Wednesday it is dropping 82 rape charges against two former youth counselors in order to strengthen its expanded investigation into sex abuse at the state's youth detention center.

Jeffrey Buskey, 53, of Boston, and Stephen Murphy, 50, of Danvers, Massachusetts, were charged in July with repeatedly beating and raping a teenage boy at the Youth Development Center in the 1990s. But Attorney General Gordon MacDonald dismissed the charges Wednesday, saying court deadlines in those cases “are now negatively impacting the State’s ability to conduct the broader investigation unfettered." Future charges are possible, he said.

MacDonald said in July his office would launch a comprehensive investigation into the center’s operations and employees from 1990 to 2000 to determine whether other children were physically or sexually abused at the facility now known as the Sununu Youth Services Center. On Wednesday, he announced that an “unprecedented allocation of investigatory resources” have since been assigned to a Joint YDC Task Force, including 10 state police troopers, an intelligence analyst and investigators from his office.

“The extraordinary level of resources now devoted to the YDC matter is without any recent precedent and reflects the seriousness with which the State takes these grave allegations,” MacDonald said in a statement.

He said the charges were dropped “in order to allow the investigation to proceed to completion and to ensure that any and all charges brought in connection with this matter appropriately reflect all the evidence and all the potential survivors and perpetrators."

The victim in the criminal case, David Meehan, filed a class-action lawsuit against Murphy, Buskey, the state and others in January alleging that not only was he repeatedly raped and beaten, but that other workers ignored him when he sought help. His attorneys also represent nearly 100 other men and women who say they were abused as children by both male and female staffers as long ago as the 1960s and as recently as last year.

“Mr. Meehan and the other survivors of the Sununu Center/YDC continue to place their trust in the Governor, the Attorney General, the Legislature, and the legal system to ensure that all of the perpetrators and those that enabled them are held accountable, and that all of the survivors of decades of rapes, beatings, and torture by state employees are made whole," Rus Rilee said. "It is now time that the perpetrators are brought to justice and the survivors receive their measure of justice.”

Attorneys for Buskey and Murphy did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. In a post on a fundraising website he appears to have written in August, Buskey said he is innocent and described himself as “a doting grandfather, a loving father, and a kind person.”

Murphy’s attorney, Bruce Kenna, said in January the allegations are false and said Meehan is motivated by “money and greed.” The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they go public, as Meehan has.

The youth detention center houses teens ordered to a secure facility by the juvenile justice system. Though its population has dropped to about 30 residents in recent years, it once held upward of 100 children and has come under regular scrutiny over the years. In 2000 and 2001, the Division of Children, Youth and Families spent seven months investigating 25 complaints of abuse and neglect, including a boy who said he lost the tip of his finger when staff members slammed a door on it and others who accused staff members of wrapping boys’ heads in towels and slamming them against pool tables. It concluded teens had been abused in five of the cases.

More recently, the Disability Rights Center, an advocacy group, has conducted investigations into the use of force and restraints at the facility. In 2018, it alleged that staff at the center routinely violated state law in using dangerous face-down restraint methods, including breaking the arm of a 14-year-old boy with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.