The mother of a Tulsa County man who died while undergoing drug rehabilitation treatment at Narconon Arrowhead in Pittsburg County has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the corporation.
Three drug rehabilitation patients have died at Narconon Arrowhead within the past year and families of all three have now filed civil lawsuits against the corporation.
The latest lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Pittsburg County District Court by Shirley Gilliam, the mother of Gabriel Graves, 32.
Graves was found dead in his bed at Narconon Arrowhead on Oct. 26, 2011.
Gilliam says that Narconon Arrowhead treatments rely on the written “technology” of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, “despite the fact that Hubbard had no known training or education in the field of drug or alcohol rehabilitation.”
Treatments included the use of saunas for “purification” and training routines that focused on conditioning students to either give or receive orders, the lawsuit says.
During Graves' stay at Narconon Arrowhead, he “repeatedly evidenced symptoms of feeling ill, headaches and vomiting,” but was never referred to a physician, Gilliam alleges.
Graves was found dead the day after he complained of a terrible headache following sauna treatments, the lawsuit says.
Graves asked for over-the-counter pain relief and permission to see a physician, but was denied both and advised to return to the sauna, the lawsuit alleges.
Gerald D. Wootan, a Tulsa County osteopathic physician and Narconon of Oklahoma's medical director, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Gilliam alleges Wootan failed to adequately monitor the treatment of patients, including the use of high doses of niacin.
Narconon of Oklahoma “fraudulently misrepresents to potential students that a physician is on staff 24 hours a day. Instead, a physician is present only once a week,” the lawsuit claims.
Contacted by telephone Wednesday, Dr. Wootan said he couldn't discuss the case because of federal patient privacy regulations.
“Because of HIPAA laws, I can't talk about that,” he said.
Narconon Arrowhead officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Gilliam is asking for at least $75,000 in damages on each of three causes of action — wrongful death, negligence and violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act — plus unspecified punitive damages “sufficient to punish the defendants and deter such reckless conduct in the future.”
Graves is one of three individuals who have died within the past year while undergoing drug rehabilitation treatments at Narconon Arrowhead.
The others who died are Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, of Owasso, who died July 19 and Hillary Holten, 21, of Carrollton, Texas, who died April 11.
Tulsa attorneys Gary L. Richardson and his son, Chuck Richardson, of the Tulsa law firm Richardson Richardson Boudreaux Keesling PLLC are representing the families of Graves and Murphy in wrongful death lawsuits against Narconon Arrowhead.
“Circumstances of the deaths of Gabriel Graves and Stacy Murphy have numerous similarities,” Gary Richardson said.
Richardson said both sought treatment for drug addiction and were provided with misleading information on the Narconon website and by Narconon representatives that concealed the treatment program's relationship with the teachings of Hubbard, the Church of Scientology founder.
Holten's parents filed a negligence lawsuit against Narconon of Oklahoma in August. They are represented by Tulsa attorney Michael Atkinson.
Narconon Arrowhead is also under investigation by the Pittsburg County district attorney and by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Richard Hull, assistant district attorney, said he is waiting to receive a toxicology report from the state medical examiner in Murphy's death before wrapping up his investigation.
The medical examiner's office already has listed the cause and manner of death for Graves and Holten as unknown.
Jeff Dismukes, spokesman for the mental health department, said his agency's investigation is not yet complete.