17 Feb 2009

Mom sues Church of Scientology in son's death

St. Petersburg Times - Florida  February 17, 2009

by Jonathan Abel | Times Staff Writer

CLEARWATER — A mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology, its Flag Service Organization and three parishioners, claiming they brought about her son's death by denying him access to his antidepression medication.

Among the three parishioners named as defendants: Denise Gentile, the twin sister of the church's current worldwide leader, David Miscavige, as well as her husband, Gerald Gentile.

The lawsuit stems from the death of Kyle T. Brennan, 20, who shot himself in the head on Feb. 16, 2007, in Clearwater, while visiting his father, who is a Scientologist.

Police determined the death was a suicide, but Victoria Britton, the young man's mother, said Scientologists are responsible.

Filed in Tampa federal court Friday, the lawsuit claims Gentile and her husband persuaded Kyle Brennan's father to take away his Lexapro, which his son was taking for depression and anxiety.

The suit, which also names Thomas Brennan as a defendant, states that the defendants tried to put Kyle Brennan into a Narconon drug treatment program.

Kyle Brennan was not a Scientologist, the suit states.

The suit is being brought by attorney Ken Dandar, well-known for his extended legal battle against Scientology during the Lisa McPherson case. McPherson, a 36-year-old Scientologist, died in 1995 while in the care of church staffers in Clearwater.

Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis said the lawsuit is an attempt to "draw the church into something that we don't have anything to do with."

None of the Scientologists named as defendants were church staff members, he said. They were all just parishioners. And Davis emphasized that the events took place on private property without church involvement.

Even Narconon, the drug treatment program that uses L. Ron Hubbard's teachings, is a separate entity from the Church of Scientology, he said.

Still, the case draws attention to Scientology's opposition to psychiatric drugs like Lexapro, which it deems to be mind-altering.

The Web site for Lexapro warns users not to go off their medication suddenly, even if they are feeling better. Changes in dosage, it says, can cause patients on antidepressants to worsen their depression, show signs of mood changes and exhibit thoughts of suicide.

Before his death, Kyle Brennan lived at home in Charlottesville, Va., where he was attending college, Dandar said. He was in the second year of a liberal arts degree when he left school and traveled around the country, Dandar said.

Kyle Brennan made a number of stops, going as far west as Hawaii, but in February 2007 he found his way to Clearwater, to stay with his father, whom he hadn't seen since the summer before.

Dandar said Kyle was taking a 10 mg dose of Lexapro, which he descried as "moderate." It was prescribed for him in early 2006 to help him with depression and anxiety.

He continued to use the drug while staying in his dad's two-bedroom apartment at 423 Cleveland St. in Clearwater, Dandar said.

But a week into the stay, Denise Gentile and her husband prevailed upon Kyle's father to take away the Lexapro medication and lock it in his truck, the lawsuit alleges.

While Scientology spokesman Davis said Denise Gentile was not in any authority position at the church, the suit alleges she had the title of "chaplain" and was held up as an authority of sorts on helping families with emotional matters.

The Gentiles and Brennan also phoned Britton, the young man's mother, to try to persuade her to put Kyle in Narconon, the lawsuit states.

The mother, who is not a Scientologist, was adamant that she and her son did not want anything to do with the drug treatment, the lawsuit states. She insisted that her son be put back on Lexapro.

The medication remained locked away, the suit states.

On Feb. 16, 2007, just after 11 p.m., Kyle Brennan shot himself with a loaded .357 Magnum that he found in his father's apartment, the lawsuit states.

His father found him dead, his head slumped in a laundry basket.

The lawsuit said it is unclear how he got ahold of the gun, but it blames "one or more of the Defendants."

"They locked up his medicine, but not the loaded .357 Magnum. That's the story line," Dandar said. "I think that's the case."

Thomas Brennan did not return a phone call left on his voice mail. Neither Denise nor Gerald Gentile could be reached for comment.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

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  1. Federal Judge Steven Merryday agrees with Attorney Ken Dandar.

    Judge denies motion to dismiss Kyle Brennan complaint and strikes police report filed by Miscavige-Gentile.

  2. Scientologists Aren't Liable for Suicide of Young Man

    By MARIMER MATOS, Courthouse News Service December 20, 2011

    (CN) - The mother of a boy who killed himself cannot sue his father and the Church of Scientology for taking away his antidepressants, a federal judge ruled.

    Victoria Britton filed suit in 2009 over the death of her 20-year-old son, Kyle Thomas Brennan, after he visited with his father in Clearwater, Fla., in February 2007.

    Kyle Brennan had allegedly been the victim of an assault days earlier, but he was taking Lexapro antidepressants consistently.

    Concerned that his son was suicidal, Thomas Brennan, a Scientologist, contacted a counselor with church, according to the complaint. But the Thomas' auditor with the church, Denise Gentile, allegedly advised him to take his son's medication away even though Kyle was not a Scientologist himself.

    Less than 24 hours after taking away Kyle's antidepressants, the young man "was dead from a single shot of a 357 magnum handgun inside the father's bedroom," according to the complaint.

    Kyle's psychiatrist allegedly said that stopping the antidepressants so abruptly, coupled with Kyle knowing he could not have them, exasperated his mental condition.

    The defendants Britton had sued - the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Denise Gentile, Gerald Gentile and Thomas Brennan - moved for summary judgment last year, claiming a lack of evidence.

    U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday granted that motion on Dec. 6, noting that Kyle had contacted more than 24 governmental agencies to initiate criminal proceedings against most of his immediate family before arriving at his father's home.

    "The record is clear that Kyle soon relinquished his Lexapro to his father, who is the sole source of testimony about the attendant circumstances," Merryday wrote. "The father reports that Kyle - acting unilaterally and voluntarily - presented the Lexapro to his father and said, 'I hate this shit. It makes me sick.' Kyle's father claims he took the Lexapro to a local library, researched the pharmacology of Lexapro, and placed the Lexapro in the trunk of his car. No other direct evidence or permissible inference describes the circumstances of Kyle's surrendering the Lexapro to his father."

    Britton had claimed the "smoking gun" of her case was a communication from Gentile's supervisor, who said, "Get your son moved out and get him set up somewhere so that he can be handled,"

    Merryday disagreed. "This entry shows that an ethics officer within Scientology advised an active practitioner of Scientology to move a troubled non-Scientologist from the practitioner's residence and to somewhere that assistance was available for the non-member," he wrote. "No evidence exists that anything at all occurred as a result of this entry, no evidence exists that Denise Gentile did anything because of this entry, no evidence exists that Kyle's father did anything because of this entry, and no evidence exists that anything either happened or failed to happen to Kyle because of this entry."

    "The plaintiff's tendered explanation of the meaning of the term 'handled' within Scientology adds little or nothing to support the plaintiff's extravagant claims," he added.

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    The Church of Scientology is not responsible for Kyle having access to a handgun, Merryday found.

    "No evidence suggests that Scientology or the Gentiles knew of the handgun in even the remotest manner or had reason to suspect the presence of the handgun in the father's apartment," the 24-page decision states. "Both Scientology and the Gentiles are in this record utterly unconnected to the handgun and the ammunition."

    Merryday said that "a close and objective examination of the extensive record developed in this action confirms the soundness of the defendants' attack on the plaintiff's claim."

    "The plaintiff's claim of Scientology's complicity in, and responsibility for, Kyle's death remains a mere hypothesis that is without essential support based upon reasoned and direct inference from the available evidence," he added. "In particular and in a manner fatal to the plaintiff's claim, the available evidence leaves irreparable gaps in the plaintiff's proposed historical sequence and irreparable gaps in the causal relation between persons and events and their respective consequences."