Testimony ends in a trial over New Hampshire’s accountability for youth center abuse

BRENTWOOD, N.H. (AP) — Jurors who will decide whether to hold New Hampshire accountable for abuse at its youth detention center heard from the final witness in a landmark trial Wednesday: a psychiatrist who said the plaintiff has bipolar disorder, not post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Harrison Pope is the director of the biological psychiatry lab at McLean Hospital, where he has worked for nearly 50 years and has specialized in treatment of bipolar disorder. Testifying on behalf of the state, he said he was confident in the diagnosis he made after reviewing David Meehan’s medical history and speaking to him for several hours this year.

“The most important thing in his case is his history of bipolar disorder,” Pope said.

Meehan, 42, went to police in 2017 with allegations that he had been beaten, raped and held in solitary confinement at the Youth Development Center in the 1990s. Since he sued the state in 2020, 11 former state workers have been arrested and more than 1,100 former residents of the Manchester facility have filed lawsuits alleging six decades of abuse.

Meehan, whose lawsuit seeking millions of dollars was the first to be filed and first to go to trial, says the state’s negligence enabled abuse so severe that he has been largely unable to work or enjoy life as an adult. His mental health providers over the past decade and experts who testified at the trial diagnosed him with severe PTSD, but Pope disagreed.

While many symptoms of PTSD overlap with the depressive episodes that are part of bipolar disorder, PTSD does not include the symptoms that show up in manic episodes, he said.

“The bipolar disorder is such a profound illness and can cause so many of his symptoms that it’s impossible to know, if you could lift off all of those symptoms that are attributable to bipolar disorder … how many symptoms would be left over,” he said. “Without being able to see the picture with the bipolar disorder properly treated, it’s just speculative as to how much of would be attributed to PTSD itself.”

Jurors heard testimony about a 2020 episode in which Meehan was hospitalized after making delusional statements, including believing he was a biblical figure. Pope called that a classic manic episode, though Meehan’s experts said it didn’t fit the definition because he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

Pope also disagreed with an earlier expert who said she believed Meehan’s account of abuse because he displayed physical symptoms, including elevated blood pressure and sweating, during the evaluation.

“We’re no better lie detectors than anybody else,” Pope said. “And if anybody was on the state who told you otherwise, they were misleading you.”

Over the course of three weeks, jurors heard from Meehan and more than a dozen witnesses called by his attorneys. In addition to the psychologists, they included former staffers who said they faced resistance and even threats when they raised or investigated concerns, a former resident who described being gang-raped in a stairwell, and a teacher who said she spotted suspicious bruises on Meehan and half a dozen other boys during his time there.

The state’s defense was considerably shorter, with just five witnesses over three days, including Meehan’s father and a longtime YDC school employee who said she neither saw nor heard about any abuse.

Attorneys are expected to make their closing statements Thursday.

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