McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Police/Courts

January 7, 2014

Attorney in Narconon Arrowhead lawsuit calls ruling a "Big Win"

McALESTER —  A judge ruled Tuesday that hundreds of records of Narconon Arrowhead clients, trainees and employees related to incidents of drug or alcohol use must be released  in connection with an ongoing lawsuit.

“Its a big win for the family and for the state of Oklahoma,” said attorney Donald Smollen.

Smollen represents the family of Heather Landmeier, a Narconon graduate who has been in a vegetative state since she overdosed on heroin and OxyContin.

Narconon Arrowhead is a drug rehabilitation facility in Canadian that uses Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings.

Three clients of the facility — Hillary Holten, 21, Gabriel Graves, 33, and Stacy Murphy, 20 — were found dead there within a nine-month span. A fourth, Kaycie Werninck, 28, died in 2009 at a local hospital.

The most recent death, the July 2012 death of Murphy, spurred an multi-agency investigation, which is still ongoing, according to Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel Kerns.

Tuesday’s ruling in the Pittsburg County courtroom of Associate District Judge James Bland followed another ruling made in December stating that attorney Jeff Contreras must provide the court and Narconon a list of his clients.

Contreras told the News-Capital that he is representing “respondents” in the case.

The respondents are former Narconon Arrowhead students, trainees or employees who were selected to produce documents related to alleged incidents of drug and alcohol use by its staff, trainees and students, according to Contreras.

Contreras said he had no comment about Tuesday’s ruling as he walked out of the courtroom after the ruling was made.

The ruling in the most recent in series of lawsuits filed against Narconon Arrowhead and Narconon International alleging wrongful death, credit card and insurance fraud and employees trading drugs for sex, according to court documents.

Landmeier remains permanently disabled and requires 24-hour care with lifetime medical costs estimated at more than $30 million, according to Smollen.

“But this isn’t about the money. This is about putting an end to what goes on at the facility,” the attorney said.

“Families members like the Landmeiers give Narconon Arrowhead $40,000 to $50,000 to help their children.

“They don’t expect their children to come out permanently disabled or worse.”

Smollen said the judge in the case meticulously reviewed several hundred records regarding sexual misconduct and drug use at the Narconon Arrowhead facility.

“It was a tedious process,” he said.

Of the hundreds of cases, there were 19 objections filed from respondents who did not wish to have their names disclosed, Smollen said.

“(Narconon Arrowhead) has really tried hard to prevent  the public from knowing what’s going on inside their facility,” Smollen.

Tuesday’s ruling follows a string of actions involving the Narconon facility.

Last year, the Senate passed Senate Bill 295, nicknamed “Stacy’s Law” after Stacy Murphy, to regulate facilities such as Narconon Arrowhead.

And, Narconon Arrowhead’s top executive Gary Smith and several of his employees had their counseling certification revoked by the National Association of Forensic Counselors.

Then last year, Narconon Arrowhead’s medical detox facility in McAlester lost its state certification after a temporary permit expired.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s ruling was part of pre-trial proceedings in the Landmeier lawsuit originally filed in March 2010. The suit alleges drugs were given to her by Narconon staff while she was in the program.

After graduating from the program, Landmeier relapsed, was readmitted and then kicked out two different times for allegedly violating rules by using drugs and alcohol, according to allegations

The suit alleges those violations occurred after drugs were provided to her by Narconon staff.

The suit alleges that the day after she was removed for the last time, she overdosed in a Tulsa motel room, leaving her in a permanent vegetative state, paralyzed from the neck down.

The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 and alleges breach of duty of care.

Narconon Arrowhead Executive Director Gary Smith did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment about the case.

In a September statement from Narconon Arrowhead, representatives said they couldn’t can’t comment on the case but that drugs and alcohol are “strictly prohibited” at the facility.

“We cannot comment on the Landmeier case or any individual student’s case because of federal laws which prohibit disclosure of such information, as we have previously explained,” Narconon said in the statement. “We can tell you generally, without reference to any particular student, that to our knowledge no member of our staff has given drugs or alcohol to any of our students, and that we have zero tolerance for anything like that because it is contrary to everything we stand for.

“The same is true for our policy regarding drugs or alcohol on our premises. Both are strictly prohibited.

“We work constantly to protect our students every way we can, yet, as with any program such as ours, there will be some students who don’t always follow the rules. When that does occur, we deal with it within our treatment approach, and continue to work with the student unless that student’s conduct presents unacceptable risk to others. The safety and welfare of every student in the program is of paramount importance to us, as has been demonstrated by our long history of offering successful drug and alcohol abuse treatment services.”

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

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