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State spotlights plaintiff’s mental health in child abuse trial

YDC plaintiff David Meehan testifies in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood on April 17, 2024. David Lane/Union Leader POOL
DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER
YDC plaintiff David Meehan testifies in his civil trial at Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood on April 17, 2024. David Lane/Union Leader POOL

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 23, 2024 to include additional information from Dr. Terry Kupers’ testimony.

An attorney defending the state of New Hampshire against claims of enabling child abuse at the former Youth Development Center (YDC) highlighted the plaintiff’s history of mental health episodes during cross-examination Monday in Rockingham Superior Court.

A psychiatrist called by the plaintiff’s attorneys in the landmark YDC trial later testified that incarcerated children can be at risk of serious mental illness, and that Meehan suffers from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Attorney Martha Gaythwaite, who is among the attorneys representing the state, focused the jury’s attention on incidents from David Meehan’s past, including a 2015 hospitalization following what Gaythwaite described as a “standoff involving a SWAT team,” and an episode in 2020, where Meehan was involuntarily committed to Portsmouth Hospital.

“Your wife was concerned about your safety and your family’s safety?” asked Gaythwaite, referring to the 2020 incident. “Yes,” Meehan replied.

“And you had told your wife that you thought you were related to royalty and you also told her you thought you thought you were a biblical figure?”

Meehan acknowledged he had been committed, but disputed the characterization.

“The same year, 2020, when you were going out onto balconies screaming uncontrollably, when you were telling people that 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?”

Gaythwaite also raised the fact that Meehan had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

READ MORE of NHPR's coverage of the landmark civil trial here.

At times, Meehan grew frustrated at the line of questioning. Later, when asked by his own attorney how the process of disclosing his alleged abuse has felt, Meehan was emotional.

“How much of this am I supposed to be forced to remember?” said Meehan. “Because, 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 f***ing made it up? That hurts.”

Following Meehan’s testimony, his attorneys called Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and lecturer hired by Meehan’s legal team to evaluate him.

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Kupers, who has studied the effects of sexual abuse in prison, said children placed in youth detention facilities require special attention because of their “very important” developmental stage.

“We have to work very hard to help them straighten out their path through life,” said Kupers. “And if we fail, it’s very likely that they're going to be at risk for a life of serious mental illness, of repeated interactions with the criminal justice system, of social failure.”

When Kupers resumed his testimony on Tuesday, he told the jury, “The traumas that Mr. Meehan was forced to endure at the YDC are among the most severe and outrageous that I have ever seen in my clinical experience.

“The severity of his PTSD is one of the worst cases I have ever seen in my life,” added Kupers. “His life has just been derailed by what happened at the YDC.”

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Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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