Former State Counselor Named in NH Youth Center Abuse Lawsuits
The girls at New Hampshire’s juvenile detention center called their dorm manager “Peepin’ Dave” because they say he used to sneak up on them through a bathroom window. But David Ball, later promoted to chief of operations, is also accused of much worse.
Of nearly 1,000 people who say they were physically or sexually abused at the Sununu Youth Services Center, 20 have accused Ball, who retired in 2014 but continued to advise the state on juvenile justice issues until 2021. The allegations against Ball were made in lawsuits towards indicate, point to one scandal that is not only increasing but also spiral up the hierarchy.
One woman, who was 14 when she was jailed in 1993, said Ball raped her dozens of times — sometimes while she was in a straitjacket — and repeatedly choked her to the point of unconsciousness.
“I really thought at some point there, I was going to die,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.
Ball, now 76, is among roughly 150 former employees implicated by former residents in more than 700 lawsuits that name the state as defendants rather than individual workers.
Ball said he did not know until a reporter called him last week that 20 lawsuits filed between October 2021 and January of this year accuse him of physically or sexually abusing 18 girls and two boys between 1981 and 1999.
“I don’t think it’s true. I know it’s not true,” Ball told the AP, saying he never hit or otherwise abused any of the children and has not been questioned by police.
The attorney general declined to comment on whether Ball is part of the criminal investigation that began in 2019. Eleven former workers have been charged with either sexually assaulting or acting as accomplices to the assault of more than a dozen teenagers from 1994 to 2007.
Lawyers for the victims have argued that Ball and other supervisors fostered a culture of violence and that in some cases they were perpetrators themselves.
“Mr. Ball, and employees like him, were allowed to sexually, physically and emotionally abuse children for decades without fear of retaliation because child abuse by government employees was not just condoned, it was condoned,” attorney Rus Rilee said after learning from the AP about Ball’s abuse .senior jobs and post-retirement appointment to a government advisory group.
State employment records show that Ball began working at the youth center in 1974 as a student assistant and became dorm manager in 1983. He was the manager of the girls’ dormitory in 2000 when he told a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader that most of the residents there came from substance abuse shelters.
“A lot of the girls say this is the safest place they’ve been,” he told the paper at the time. “They don’t like it here. It’s very restrictive. But they don’t have to worry about someone molesting them at night.”
A resume obtained by the AP lists Ball’s title as chief of operations from 2001 to 2009 and describes him as responsible for overseeing all staff “including motivation and discipline” and “creating and maintaining a safe and secure environment for both staff and residents.” He then spent five years as a field administrator overseeing juvenile protection and parole before retiring in 2014.
Within months, Ball joined the state Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. Republican Governor Chris Sununu abruptly disbanded the group in July 2021 and replaced it with a Juvenile Justice Reform Commission, with almost all new members. At the time, Ball had not been identified in any lawsuits, but at least one of his accusers had given his name to state police investigators.
Sununu’s spokesman, Ben Vihstadt, said the governor was unaware of the allegations against Ball when he disbanded the group to bring in new perspectives and ensure compliance with rules for receiving federal grants.
“He finds the allegations surrounding David Ball, who was appointed by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, incredibly concerned, and hopes that these allegations are fully investigated,” Vihstadt said.
Hassan, a Democrat now in the US Senate, appointed Ball on the recommendation of the state health commissioner. Her office declined to comment.
Four of the lawsuits accuse Ball of sexual assault, including a woman whose lawsuit says he entered her room at night to assault her and forced her and her roommate to sexually abuse each other. Three accusers said he choked them until they passed out; two said he punched them in the face.
One woman claimed Ball slammed her against a wall the night she arrived at the center and told her he was going to “break her” because she looked at him the wrong way. Another described him as a “particularly evil tutor who taught and led others to imitate him.” Several said he often looked at girls in the toilets.
The woman whose lawsuit accuses him of putting her in a straitjacket said she once tried to escape during an off-campus medical appointment and told a police officer who found her hiding in a parking lot trash can about the abuse. Ball rejected her claims and took her back to the juvenile facility, where she said Ball’s abuse intensified.
“He told me he had already warned us not to say anything, that people would be punished if things came out and that I was making it worse for the other girls by lifting,” she said.
The AP typically does not identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault unless they agree to be named.
Another woman suing the state told the AP that she tried to talk about the abuse in 1992 after a girl complained during a group counseling session that Ball had groped her, but was quickly silenced by the female counselor.
“I started to say, ‘I don’t appreciate Mr. Ball …’ but she just told me to shut up and that the best thing to do is basically go with the flow,” she said. “All hope is shot down.”
The woman, who was 17 at the time, said Ball backed off when she started gaining weight.
“So then I just ate a lot, but it didn’t deter anything because then other things happened to other people,” she said.
Ball suggested his accusers are motivated by money they could get through the lawsuits or the state $100 million settlement fund for those who decide not to take their claims to court. He admitted to being “strict” with youths and said that as a supervisor he had the final say on discipline or decisions about weekend leave and other privileges.
“So I often had to wear the hat as the guy who said no to them,” he said. “I thought overall I had a good relationship with most of the kids and their families.”
Cody Belanger, 28, said he did not cross paths with Ball when he was incarcerated in 2008, but he served with him for years on the state advisory panel. Belanger, a former state lawmaker who now chairs the new Juvenile Justice Commission, called the allegations against Ball hard to hear.
“As someone who has been abused at the center myself, it disheartens me to think that someone I trusted would have done that, when these students are the most vulnerable youth in an already vulnerable population,” he said. “It just shows that the abuse that these kids went through, it just keeps growing.”