Girl dug her way out of adoptive parents’ ‘basement dungeon’ to escape, NH lawsuit says
A 19-year-old woman spent most of her childhood locked inside a “basement dungeon room” created by her adoptive parents whom she said forced her into servitude and didn’t let her attend school in New Hampshire, a lawsuit says.
Olivia Atkocaitis, who was adopted from China as baby in 2004, was 15 when she dug her way out through the walls of the filthy basement inside her parent’s home in New Boston — freeing herself from 14 years of abuse and “slavery” in 2018, according to the complaint filed Jan. 30 in a state superior court.
Atkocaitis’s lawsuit says state and local officials, including police, were “aware of, and perpetuated (her) suffering” before her escape.
Now she’s suing her parents, New Boston, its police department, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, its child protective services agency and a nonprofit international adoption agency, accusing them of failing to act for years.
“The facts of her case prove that, more than 150 years after its formal abolition, slavery still exists in modern times, in acute forms, in New Hampshire,” the complaint says.
Michael P. Courtney, an attorney representing the town and the New Boston Police Department, told McClatchy News in a statement that the town will file a response to the lawsuit.
He said a police investigation “ultimately led to the removal of (Atkocaitis) from the home and conditions her adopted parents subjected her to.”
But the lawsuit accuses the department and its officers of returning her to the home of Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis repeatedly after her prior attempts to escape.
Olivia Atkocaitis’s attorney Michael Lewis told McClatchy News in a statement on Feb. 2 that “the police did not free her and it’s disturbing that they would suggest otherwise.”
“She freed herself through the most desperate effort … by digging her way out of the basement dungeon of an upscale home in their community that the police knew about for years,” Lewis said.
McClatchy News was unable to contact Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis for comment, and information regarding their legal representation wasn’t available.
Courtney said the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office’s prosecution of Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis came after New Boston police filed felony charges against them.
In 2019, Thomas Atkocaitis spent six months in jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. He was also charged with falsifying evidence and criminal restraint, but those charges were dropped, the newspaper reported.
Denise Atkocaitis spent no time in jail after pleading guilty to criminal restraint, according to the newspaper, which reported charges of child endangerment and accessory to criminal restraint were dropped.
Agencies ‘cut ties’ with Atkocaitis after her adoption
Atkocaitis was born in China’s Hunan Province during the country’s “one-child policy” and lived in an orphanage for 14 months until her adoption, according to the complaint.
In 2004, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, its child protective agency (the Division for Children, Youth and Families) and the international adoption agency Wide Horizons, based in Massachusetts, “brought Olivia from China to New Hampshire as an infant, placed her in the Atkocaitis household, and abandoned her to the horrors that ensued,” the complaint says.
McClatchy News contacted the state health department and Wide Horizons for comment on Feb. 1 and didn’t immediately receive a response.
In 2003, before Atkcocaitis’s adoption, Wide Horizons visited the home of Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis and interviewed their own children, who said their father beat them with a belt, according to the complaint.
The state’s child protective services is accused of not investigating this after Wide Horizons reported the “belt-hitting” and allowed the couple to adopt Olivia Atkocaitis.
By December 2004, Atkocaitis was officially adopted and the state health department, child protective services and Wide Horizon “cut ties” with her, according to the complaint.
In an article published Sept. 28, 2018 in the New Hampshire Business Review, Atkocaitis’s attorney Lewis wrote that then-Gov. Maggie Hassan solicited an audit of the state’s child protective services agency that found “major shortcomings.” It was published online in December 2016.
Olivia’s childhood and her imprisonment in the ‘basement dungeon’
Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis “were already physically and mentally abusing Olivia” by the time she was 3 years old, the complaint says.
They’re accused of regularly using a dog leash to tie her to a metal column inside their home, calling her racial slurs and confining her inside a tiny, “lockable basement dungeon room” they constructed, according to the complaint.
Atkocaitis faced constant physical and psychological abuse from her parents, the complaint says. She wasn’t allowed to go to public school, was forced to work for her parents whom she said also “deprived” her of food and abused her with food, the complaint says.
According to the complaint, one of Atkocaitis’s siblings said “he, and another sibling, were forced to enter Olivia’s basement dungeon room, while the room and the entire basement smelled of Olivia’s human waste, to clean her basement dungeon room.”
The sibling also reported his parents didn’t let Atkocaitis receive traditional medical care over concerns that she would speak out about and “implicate” the family.
Police and school accused of not intervening
The complaint says Atkocaitis’s suffering over the years was documented by police reports she eventually obtained through public records requests.
The reports showed that, before Sept. 6, 2018, officials, including police, failed to protect her, according to the complaint.
In 2011, New Boston police were informed of the abuse after one of her teen siblings reported it to a school counselor, according to the complaint.
For a single day, Atkocaitis attended school within the School Administrative Unit 19 district in Goffstown, the complaint says. The lawsuit accuses the school of “ignoring her after it was alerted to child abuse in 2011, according to the complaint.
The school district and its superintendent Brian Balke are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Balke declined a request for comment from McClatchy News on Feb. 2.
During a police investigation in 2011, officers visited the home and took a photo of the basement Atkocaitis was left inside — but the matter was dropped, according to the complaint.
In June 2015, Atkocaitis, then 12, was briefly missing after her parents reported she jumped out of their home’s second-story window, the complaint says. However, after about two hours, police found her, brought her back to the house and reprimanded her for escaping.
Atkocaitis’s successful escape from her adoptive parents’ home
On Sept. 5, 2018, Atkocaitis escaped her parents’ basement by digging through its walls and ran into the nearby woods, according to the complaint.
After a person found her, police “investigated and finally arrested Denise and Thomas Atkocaitis and initiated criminal prosecutions of them for felony level offenses,” the complaint says.
Courtney said the town of New Boston “denies any claim that it failed to act or protect” Olivia Atkocaitis.
Atkocaitis is suing on several counts and demands a trial by jury. Her lawsuit seeks to recover declaratory relief damages and more.
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports Denise Atkocaitis now resides in Georgia and Thomas Atkocaitis lives in Maine.
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