Narconon fights judge's order to release staff records

Tulsa World/September 10, 2012

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is considering a request to block a judge's order for a controversial drug treatment facility to produce records on staff misconduct.

Narconon Arrowhead, a drug detoxification facility rooted in Scientology, filed the request to block the judge's order last month in a negligence lawsuit filed on behalf of Heather Landmeier.

Landmeier, now 27 and living in Illinois, is a former student and trainee of the facility, court records state. She graduated from the program and began employee training but was kicked out of the program in March 2008 after testing positive for drugs, court records state.

Landmeier left the program northeast of McAlester and went to a Tulsa hotel on 61st Street near U.S. 169, where she was found the next morning suffering from a near-fatal drug overdose of heroin and Oxycontin.

Today, Landmeier is in a vegetative state and requires around-the-clock care, according to family members.

The Oklahoma center, Narconon International's flagship facility out of several in the United States, is based on the teachings of science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, according to the organization's website.

Local and state authorities began an investigation after three recent student deaths at the facility, which also led to several public protests of the facility's practices.

Recent deaths include the July 19 death of Stacy Murphy, a 20-year-old Owasso woman; the April 11 death of Hillary Holten, a 21-year-old woman from Carrolton, Texas, and the October 2011 death of Gabriel Graves, a 32-year-old Claremore man.

Plaintiffs have filed several lawsuits against Narconon in Pittsburg County alleging negligence, court records show.

In Landmeier's lawsuit, her family alleges she was kicked out of the program along with a staff member who also tested positive for drugs. The lawsuit claims Narconon officials neglected to address ongoing misconduct in which employees traded drugs for sex.

Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith said the facility would contact authorities and press for charges against any employee caught using or possessing drugs.

"Our policy is firm and there is no tolerance," Smith said. "If that occurred, the person would be fired and we would file criminal charges."

Smith said he could not comment on Landmeier's pending lawsuit. He said in general, the facility has never sought criminal charges against any employee involving drugs or caught employees sharing drugs with students.

Records show Pittsburg County District Court Judge James Bland viewed the documents concerning employee misconduct privately before he ordered they be brought into the case.

Narconon's request to block Bland's order argues the documents are protected by laws governing patient privacy.

The employees in question are former "students" or patients at the facility, so their records should be kept private, according to the Narconon petition.

Smith said students can become "trainees" after they graduate - a 90-day process where trainees learn policies and earn certifications before joining the staff. The trainees are not paid during the training phase but are given food and housing in a work-exchange program, he said.

Trainees do not come into contact with students and work in the kitchen or other areas to maintain the facility, he said.

Landmeier's attorney, Donald Smolen II, argues in a response filed with the court that the documents do not concern any student records, only staff misconduct.

"Narconon apparently asserts that because it only employs individuals who are current or former students, all employee records are considered confidential drug and alcohol treatment records," according to Landmeier's response.

A hearing date on the petition has not been set by the Supreme Court.

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