Drug rehab centers affiliated with the Church of Scientology have become the focus of multiple government investigations and civil lawsuits in the last two years, and one of the most disturbing cases involving those facilities is the one of Richard Teague in Michigan.
On January 15, 2011, while being held in the “withdrawal unit” of Narconon Freedom Center in Albion, Michigan, Teague, while exhibiting symptoms of severe benzodiazepine withdrawal, set himself on fire with the use of a cigarette lighter and a spray cologne bottle. With flames engulfing him, he ran outside and extinguished the fire by plunging into the snow.
(In Oklahoma, it was the “withdrawal unit” of Scientology’s flagship drug rehab facility, Narconon Arrowhead, where Stacy Dawn Murphy died of a drug overdose in July, 2012, leading to multiple government investigations and the passage of a new state law to regulate rehab facilities in that state more closely.)
Teague filed suit against two related facilities that treated him — Narconon Freedom Center is no longer part of the suit, but the other one is, as we’ll explain in a minute. Now, there’s troubling new evidence about Richard Teague’s initial days at those Michigan facilities.
When Teague was first admitted to Narconon Freedom Center in Albion, within hours he was moved to another facility called “A Forevery Recovery,” a medical detox facility in nearby Battle Creek, Michigan which is owned by a man named Per Wickstrom. (Wickstrom owns the building in Albion which is leased by Narconon Freedom Center, and he owns or is affiliated with several other rehab facilities in the state.)
For five days, Teague was treated at A Forever Recovery as he was “weaned” from his klonopin and alcohol addictions. And now, Teague’s attorneys have deposed a woman who was the director of nursing at that facility and who helped treat Teague there.
For reasons that will become obvious, we’re only going to refer to this woman as Nurse Jackie.
Jackie first became a registered nurse in 1979, but from 1999 to 2009 she lost her license because of drug addictions and because she was caught stealing injectable demerol from a hospital where she worked. But she cleaned herself up, finished a bachelor’s degree, and by 2009 she’d won back her nursing license.
At the time, she was working at an arts and crafts store, but she’d put her nursing resume online when she was interviewed by Wickstrom’s company. And that’s when she went from selling scrapbooking supplies to become the director of nursing at A Forever Recovery.
It was quite a leap, but she’d been on the job for two years before Richard Teague arrived in January 2011.
Teague’s attorney, Jeff Ray, did the questioning during her deposition.
Q. Did you ever relapse when you were employed at AFR?
Q. Have you seen other employees relapse while they were employed at AFR?
A. Oh, my goodness.
Jackie then named a couple of employees she saw struggle with drug addictions. As we’ve seen in other Scientology-affiliated rehabs around the country, the staff is often made up of recent graduates from the program, and Narconon’s own internal documents and lawsuits filed against the centers allege rampant use of drugs.
Ray questioned Jackie about her background, and about her move from selling arts supplies to becoming the director of nursing at a medical detox center which treated people going through severe drug withdrawal.
Q. OK. So, basically you went to work in the spring of ’09 as an RN. You didn’t receive any special training except what you did on your own. The company didn’t say, “Hey, you’ve got to read this, you’ve got to go through this training program, you’ve got to do all these things before you can work here.” They didn’t do that.
A. That is correct.
Jackie described a procedure that made sure a patient who was sent by Narconon to the medical detox at A Forever Recovery would be seen by a physician to make sure that a regimen was established for them. Then Jackie or one of the other nurses would check on them repeatedly, to make sure that their vital signs and other inidicators were good.
There was no program at A Forever Recovery, Jackie testified. Patients were given drugs to help them with withdrawal, and after five days of sitting around or using a gym, if things had gone well, they would be sent back to Narconon, which doesn’t use drugs but a combination of sauna, vitamins and “life skills.” (As we’ve reported before, these “life skills” courses are indistinguishable from the low-level drills that Scientologists go through in the church.)
But when she’s shown paperwork in Teague’s case, Jackie admits that it’s difficult to tell what days she worked or who was actually making observations of him. She admits at one point that she and another nurse were accustomed to signing for each other, pretending that they’d done work when they really hadn’t.
And at one point, Ray asks her if she’s heard about a scheme at A Forever Recovery to target insurance companies.
Q. Did you ever hear of someone at AFR, whether they were in Division 6 or otherwise, telling a new patient to actually ingest drugs or alcohol before they came to the facility so that there would be more … more confident of insurance coverage?
A. Can I clarify that? Did I hear the AFR staff say that?
Q. Did you hear of that practice taking place?
A. I heard of it. I heard of it by the client.
Q. More than one client?
Another practice that seemed alarming was that Jackie said patients weren’t just weaned off of heroin or cocaine or alcohol, but that they were also gradually taken off of any psychiatric medications they might be taking.
Scientology is famous for its virulent hatred for the psychiatric profession and psychiatric pharmaceuticals.
In the case of Richard Teague, however, Jackie testified that he had tested negative for drugs, but when he said he had recently used klonopin and had been abusing it for decades, they took the precaution of keeping him at the medical detox for the usual five days. And though he exhibited symptoms consistent with Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome, he was approved to be returned to the Narconon center.
Q. Do you have an opinion as to why Richard Teague would have lit himself on fire the day after he left AFR facility?
A. I have no idea.
A. I have no idea.
Q. I didn’t think so, but I just felt like I should ask you. Do you feel, knowing what little you do, what I just told you happened to him — unless you know more that I don’t know about — that an extended stay in detox would have been beneficial to him?
A. I do not think an extended stay in detox would have been beneficial to him. I think getting psychiatric help would have been beneficial to him. And that was not provided at either AFR or Narconon.
Attorney Jeff Ray has more depositions lined up in the case. Narconon Freedom Center is no longer part of the lawsuit, but A Forever Recovery is still being sued by Teague. Nurse Jackie has left A Forever Recovery and is now working for a different company.
As for Teague, after he was moved back from A Forever Recovery to Narconon Freedom Center, he ran away from the facility that day and made it to a nearby hospital with the help of a stranger. There, he was diagnosed with numbness and tingling in his face and hands, a symptom of benzodiazepine withdrawal, which can have serious consquences. He was discharged and went home. But that evening, he was visited by an employee of Narconon Freedom Center, who convinced him to return. Then he was put into the “withdrawal unit,” where his attorneys allege in his legal complaint that he was left unsupervised with items he should not have had while going through withdrawal. With those items, he lit himself on fire, and was engulfed in flames which were extinguished in the snow outside the building. Reads the complaint…
[Teague] received serious, permanent and grievous injuries as a result of burns suffered while in the care of Narconon Freedom Center…[he] was in a delusional, paranoid state when he was severely and permanently burned on January 15, 2011…Narconon Freedom Center and A Forever Recovery rely exclusively on the written “technology” (writings) of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, to address the drug and alcohol rehabilitation needs of students enrolled in Narconon programs, even though Hubbard had no training or education in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
We expect more evidence in this case to break soon, and as soon as it does, we’ll bring it to you.
Brandon Ogborn gave the Underground Bunker a cool shout-out when he took part in the Feast of Fun podcast yesterday. Ogborn made the appearance as his play, The TomKat Project, is hoping to raise enough money to take the hilarious show to Los Angeles.
The TomKat Project is more than just a send-up of the strange relationship between Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, and Cruise’s best buddy, Scientology leader David Miscavige. Ogborn manages to skewer celebrity culture itself, and he does it by pulling a lot of material directly from tabloid reporting of the famous couple. This show needs to be seen in LA, so help us get the word out about it.
Scientology and its Attorneys
Another fun video from Karen de la Carriere, J. Swift, and Angry Gay Pope…
Posted by Tony Ortega on October 18, 2013 at 08:40
E-mail your tips and story ideas to email@example.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.