New Hampshire's attorney general launched an investigation Thursday into the state youth detention center after two former counselors were charged with raping a teenage boy 82 times, at least once at gunpoint, in the late 1990s.
The "comprehensive, multi-faceted" investigation into the Sununu Youth Services Center will initially focus on the center's operations and employees from 1990 to 2000 and will address whether other children were physically or sexually abused, and whether other laws were broken, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said in a news release.
Hillsborough County grand jury indictments issued July 19 and made public Thursday charge Jeffrey Buskey, 52, of Boston, with 56 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. Steven Murphy, 50, of Danvers, Massachusetts, faces 26 counts of the same crime.
According to the indictments, Buskey is accused of sexually penetrating the teen and forcing him to engage in oral sex, including once at gunpoint. Several of the indictments also allege that Buskey hit the boy, punched him and threw him on a mattress. Murphy also is accused of sexually assaulting and beating the boy.
It wasn't known if Buskey and Murphy had lawyers to speak for them; prosecutors had no information. A message was left at a possible phone number for Buskey, and no number for Murphy could be found. The attorney general's office said that neither is in custody and that court arraignments would be scheduled.
Prosecutors said both men were youth counselors at the facility, which was then called the Youth Development Center. The alleged assaults happened between late October 1997 and late September 1998 while the teen was incarcerated, though several of the indictments against Buskey allege assaults happened at a private home.
Gov. Chris Sununu — a Republican whose father, former Gov. John H. Sununu, is the center's current namesake — called the allegations "sickening."
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"The state of New Hampshire stands ready to assist and cooperate in any investigation that will bring these detestable perpetrators to justice," he said in a statement. "I am confident that the Attorney General's Office will aggressively pursue this case _ zero tolerance means zero tolerance."
The Manchester center serves children ages 13 to 17 ordered to a secure institutional setting by the juvenile justice system. It once housed upward of 100 youths, but the daily census dropped from about 60 to under 30 last year when state law was changed to send only those accused or convicted of serious violent offenses to the center.
"The Sununu Youth Services Center is in many respects a very different institution than it was in the 1990s. However, this despicable discovery is a reminder of the vulnerability of children," said Moira O'Neill, director of the state Office of the Child Advocate.
In an email, she said she was encouraged to see that the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the center, is working with law enforcement and recognizes the need to ensure children's safety.
The attorney general's office urged anyone with information about criminal activity to contact investigators, and anyone who was abused at the center to contact a crisis center.
Amanda Grady Sexton, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said in a statement that the children entrusted in the center's care "are among the most vulnerable populations in the state of New Hampshire, and we are deeply disturbed by these indictments."
In May last year, another advocacy group alleged that staff at the center routinely violated state law in using dangerous, face-down restrain methods, including breaking the arm of a 14-year-old boy with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder who was waiting for an opening at a community-based residential program.
The Disability Rights Center said staff caused serious injury to the boy during the December 2016 restraint, delayed his medical care and failed to notify the advocacy group as required by state law. But state officials called the allegations unfounded and irresponsible.
Last month, O'Neill invited national experts who promote alternatives to youth prisons to speak to her office's advisory group on juvenile justice. They said New Hampshire should consider intensely serving and studying its small number of incarcerated youth as it works to implement broader reforms.
Associated Press writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.