7th man arrested in sex abuse case at youth detention center

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A former youth detention center worker accused of responding to a bruised and crying teenager’s rape allegations by saying, “Look little fella, that just doesn’t happen,” was arrested Thursday in the latest development in a broad investigation into the New Hampshire facility.

Gordon Thomas Searles, 65, of Brooksville, Florida, was charged with one count of rape a day after the arrest of six other former workers at the Sununu Youth Services Center. He was being held without bail in Florida, and it was unclear whether he has an attorney to speak on his behalf.

The Manchester facility, formerly known as the Youth Development Center, has been under investigation since July 2019, when two former counselors were charged with raping a teenage boy 82 times in the 1990s.

Those charges were dropped last year in order to strengthen the expanded investigation, but both men were arrested again Wednesday, along with four others based on allegations from 11 victims from 1994 to 2005.

Searles was one of several defendants named in a lawsuit filed last year in which more than 200 men and women allege they were physically or sexually abused as children by 150 staffers at the Manchester center from 1963 to 2018.

According to their attorney, children were gang raped by counselors, beaten while raped, forced to compete for food in “fight clubs” set up by counselors, and locked in solitary confinement for weeks or months.

The lead plaintiff, David Meehan, alleges that in 1998, Searles came into his room and saw that Meehan’s face was severely bruised, with a black eye and split lip.

“Searles asked, in a jocular tone, what had happened, at which point David began to cry and told Searles that he had been beaten and raped,” the lawsuit reads. “Searles cut him off, responding ‘Look little fella, that just doesn’t happen.’ Then Searles left.”

The criminal charges did not indicate whom Searles is accused of raping.

The other six men made initial court appearances Thursday. Bail hearings were delayed until Friday for four of them, while a judge set bail at $100,000 for Lucien Poulette and $50,000 for Bradley Asbury.

Asbury, 66, of Dunbarton, New Hampshire, is charged with being an accomplice to the rape of a former resident between 1997 and 1998. His attorney unsuccessfully argued for personal recognizance bail, saying his client was not a flight risk or a danger.

Assistant Attorney General Timothy Sullivan disagreed, saying, “The passage of time in some circumstances might reduce the defendant’s dangerousness, but this is not one of those circumstances.”

Asbury, a supervisor, helped other workers throw a teenage boy to the floor and then held him down while two others raped him, Sullivan said.

“This is a child who was placed in the care of this individual,” he said. “They were sent there to be counseled, they were sent their to receive treatment, and instead they received nothing of the sort, but rather received horrific sexual violence.”

Poulette’s attorney, James Rosenberg, said his client denies the allegations and was heartened that the court did not order him held without bail.

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the Office of Attorney General to better understand the circumstances surrounding the serious allegations in this case,” he said in an email.

The center is named after former Gov. John H. Sununu, father of the current governor.

Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday he expects more arrests are coming.

“We’re not messing around,” he said. “Anyone who is involved in perpetrating these crimes these abuse on these these kids … we’re going after all of them, and we’re going to charge every last one of them. And this first seven is probably just the first seven. I imagine more charges will come.”

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