CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Zach Robinson spent decades trying to fight the nightmare of being raped as a child in a New Hampshire youth detention center. He died last month, still awaiting accountability for his alleged abusers.
"I know I'll never forget what happened," he said. early 2021, "But knowing it's there and having the relief of getting it off my shoulders hopefully limits the amount of time I have to relive it."
More than a thousand men and women allege they were physically or sexually abused as children at the Sununu Youth Services Center between 1960 and 2019.
Authorities cite the statute of limitations as a reason for the lack of further arrests. Yet hundreds of cases remain eligible for potential prosecution, according to an Associated Press analysis of 1,100 lawsuits.
While New Hampshire's statute of limitations for most felonies is six years, it runs longer in sexual assault cases involving children. In those cases, charges can be filed until the victim turns 40.
At least 356 lawsuits have been filed by plaintiffs who allege sexual harassment and are under the age of 40. They do not identify all of the alleged perpetrators by name, but the 242 that do accuse dozens of employees, nearly all of them at youth centers but some at group homes and residential treatment centers with state contracts. At least a dozen more turned 40 this year, causing their cases to fall outside the scope of criminal charges.
"It definitely makes me angry, but it has to do with the way that place is run," said William Grant, 38, who alleged that several employees mistreated him in 2001 and 2002. ,
The allegations at the Sununu Center are horrific: former residents say they were gang raped, beaten during rape, and forced to sexually assault each other. The staff members are accused of strangulating the children, beating them unconscious, burning them with cigarettes and breaking their bones.
The scam came to light after two former employees came forward were arrested in 2019 And a former resident accused of abuse went to the police two years ago. first case was filed the following year, and by the time nine more workers were charged in 2021, more than 300 alleged victims had come forward. The first criminal trial and the first civil trial are both scheduled for April.
Attorney General John Formella's office declined to discuss the AP's findings, the investigation or whether more charges are imminent. Instead, a spokesperson offered a general statement confirming that the investigation is active and pointing to the challenges of prosecuting decades-old sexual assault cases.
“There are legal considerations that must be reviewed in each specific case. “In addition, the passage of time makes it difficult for investigators to obtain corroborating evidence and some prosecutions may be hindered by the statute of limitations,” said spokesman Michael Garrity.
Attorney Russ Riley, who represents the vast majority of those suing the state, said all of his clients want criminals prosecuted and are becoming more angrier as time goes on.
“While I fear that Attorney General Formella will continue to pursue criminal prosecution to avoid creating additional civil liability for the state, our clients fully expect him to do his job and prosecute his abusers, while There is still time,” he said. ,
But another lawyer, who has prosecuted sexual assault cases and represented victims, said further charges were unlikely.
“These cases get worse with time. They are already old cases, so after two and a half years, I wouldn't hold my breath for additional arrests,” said Nema Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers.
She said child sexual abuse is under-reported and under-prosecuted, and studies show that less than 10% of perpetrators are brought to justice. Prosecution is difficult when allegations are decades old, he said, and the existence of civil lawsuits makes it easier for defense attorneys to argue that victims are lying to make money.
"Prosecutors are risk averse," he said. "If there's a risk of losing, they don't bring the case."
Several former workers at the youth center face multiple lawsuits, including Anthony Paquette, who is named in 93 lawsuits. While most of the people accused of physical abuse fall outside the statute of limitations, he is also accused of sexually assaulting nine men who were not yet 40, including one man who says Paquette raped him a dozen times. The bar has been tampered with.
Paquette, who retired in 2018, declined to comment on the allegations, according to a lawyer who represented him in 2021 when he unsuccessfully sought compensation for injuries he suffered while restraining a teenager, whom he claimed did.
Another longtime activist, Richard Croteau, is named in 82 lawsuits, 12 of which are still under the statute of limitations for sexual harassment. Several possible phone numbers for Croteau were out of service. He did not respond to a letter sent to his home, and when a reporter visited in early December no one opened the door.
Croteau's accusers include a woman who says he raped her at the facility and in his vehicle, molested her every night for two weeks and threatened to "kill her" if she told anyone. "Will go. In another lawsuit, Croteau is accused of raping a teenage boy in a ski lodge bathroom during a field trip.
Jacob, the accuser in the latter case, said that when he spoke to police several years ago, investigators told him that Croteau's name had come up quite often.
"He was the worst person," she said in a recent interview. "He gave old grandpa a 'you can always come to me' kind of personality, and then the closer you got to him, the more he would push the boundaries."
The AP does not identify those accused of sexual abuse without their consent. Jacob, who remained anonymous for an earlier interview in 2021, said he was now willing to go public with his first name and image because he is frustrated that so few criminals are held accountable.
"I'm at the point where I want the state to be responsible," he said. "I want people to know."
Another man who accused Croteau of sexual abuse described him as a "despicable man" who told him no one would believe him if he complained.
"I'd really like to sit down next to him and say, 'Remember me? I'm not that little boy anymore,'" William Grant said.
Like Jacob, Grant said he wanted his name to be used publicly to encourage action.
He said, "I was a number there, now I don't want to be a number." "My name is William Grant, and you can write it in bold."
The youth center, which once housed more than 100 children but now typically serves less than a dozen, is named for former Governor John H. Sununu, father of current Governor Chris Sununu. Lawmakers have approved closing the facility, which now houses only people accused or convicted of the most serious violent crimes, and will be replaced by a much smaller building at a new location.
Meanwhile, the mother of Zach Robinson, who died of an apparent drug overdose on Nov. 3, plans to use any money from his lawsuit to open a sober living home focused on mental health She is making.
"He struggled with addiction because of what happened to him when he was little," said Trina Cotter, who wears a pendant holding part of her son's ashes.
Cotter said her son worked hard to earn his high school equivalency degree last summer and wanted to go to college. But his success did not last.
“He always felt victimized and worthless. He was always looking for things to make her happy,” she said. “And I feel like the people who were there to help him weren't helping him. They continued to harm him until the day he died.
The story has been updated to correct the timing of the first civil trial to April instead of September.