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She dug her way out of adoptive parents’ ‘dungeon,’ suit says. Judge lets case proceed

A woman fled her adoptive parents at the age of 15 by escaping the “basement dungeon room” they confined her to in New Hampshire, according to her lawsuit filed against them earlier this year.

Olivia Atkocaitis dug her way out through the walls of the filthy basement in 2018 — freeing herself from 14 years of abuse and “slavery” at her parents’ New Boston home, the lawsuit says, McClatchy News previously reported.

Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis adopted Olivia in 2004, 14 months after she was born in China’s Hunan province, according to the lawsuit.

The couple is accused of “physically and mentally abusing” her by the time she was 3 years old, forcing her into servitude, withholding food from her and not letting her attend school in New Hampshire.

In January, Olivia Atkocaitis sued the couple, as well as state and local officials, including police, that the lawsuit says were “aware of, and perpetuated (her) suffering.”

Now, a state superior court judge has denied Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis’ motion to dismiss the case after a hearing was held on the matter Oct. 31, the judge’s Nov. 30 ruling provided to McClatchy News shows.

The ruling allows Olivia Atkocaitis’s lawsuit against them to proceed as she demands a trial by jury.

“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 original complaint filed Jan. 30 says.

Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis are representing themselves in the case, according to court records. McClatchy News left a message for Thomas Atkocaitis seeking comment on Dec. 5 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

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.

Judge denies the motion to dismiss the lawsuit

In court, Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because “they were not properly served, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and Olivia’s complaint is barred by the applicable statute of limitations,” according to the judge’s ruling.

Olivia Atkocaitis disputed each of their arguments, and the judge sided with her.

The couple asserted she couldn’t sue them because they were served with the lawsuit after she turned 20.

The judge noted Olivia was 19 when she filed suit and a “person injured as a minor, may bring suit up until the person turns 20 years old,” the ruling shows.

Olivia Atkocaitis is also suing New Boston, its police department, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and its child protective services agency.

Attorney Brian J.S. Cullen, who represents the town and police, told McClatchy News in a statement on Dec. 5 that he’s “not at all surprised that the parents’ motions were denied.”

He said New Boston police officers have filed motions to dismiss the case on a “far more basic argument — that the complaint simply does not make out a colorable claim against them.”

“I expect we’ll see a substantially narrowed suit with far fewer defendants once the Court has an opportunity to address the remaining motions,” Cullen added.

‘She freed herself through the most desperate effort’

In 2004, the state “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 lawsuit says.

While Olivia Atkocaitis was under her adoptive parents’ care, the couple is 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 lawsuit.

State Senior Assistant Attorney General Samuel R. Garland and Assistant Attorney General Catherine A. Denny are representing the state health department, which filed motions to dismiss Olivia Atkocaitis’s suit.

McClatchy News contacted them for comment Dec. 5 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

“I truly believed I was a horrible person and I caused everyone in my life pain and that my adoption was a mistake and that my birth was a mistake and that everyone would be happier and better off without me,” Atkocaitis told WMUR-TV during an interview in May.

The lawsuit says her suffering over the years was documented by police reports she eventually obtained.

Michael P. Courtney, an attorney who previously represented New Boston and its police, told McClatchy News in February that a police investigation “ultimately led to the removal of (Atkocaitis) from the home and conditions her adopted parents subjected her to.”

However, the lawsuit accuses police of repeatedly returning her to Thomas and Denise Atkocaitis after prior attempts to escape.

Olivia Atkocaitis’s attorney Michael Lewis told McClatchy News 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.

Lewis declined to offer an additional comment from himself or Atkocaitis when contacted on Dec. 5, saying their “comments are reflected on the record in this case.”

In describing her escape from her adoptive parents’ home, Atkocaitis told WMUR-TV that she did so with the help of a water bottle cap.

“I discovered if you put water on drywall, it became mud,” Atkocaitis said. “I scooped it out with the seltzer bottle water cap, and I got probably like a fist-worth scraped out.”

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