Nov 4, 2016

Sheriff criticized for seeking state Senate post following handling of Narconon investigation


Friday, November 4, 2016


Two men connected to the embattled Narconon Arrowhead say they consider Pittsburg County Sheriff and state Senate candidate Joel Kerns unqualified, saying he didn't do enough to investigate the drug rehab center, where a string of deaths drew national attention.

When asked for comment, Kerns said he couldn't see the link between his role in the investigation at Narconon Arrowhead and their experiences with the facility, saying his department carried the investigation as far as they could before it was handed over to different agencies.

Robert Murphy, whose daughter was the third patient to die at Narconon Arrowhead between 2011 and 2012, and former patient at the center, Colin Henderson, held a news conference Tuesday in which they challenged Kern’s fitness for District 7’s state Senate seat.

Both said they were "appalled" that someone who failed to prevent the Narconon deaths was seeking government office.

Murphy's daughter, 20-year-old Stacy Dawn Murphy, died at the center in July 2012. Her death followed those of patients Gabriel Graves in 2011 and Hillary Holten in 2012.

Murphy and his wife sued the rehab facility in 2013 over his daughter's death. He said if Kerns' department had properly investigated the previous deaths or complaints, she might still be alive.

“Anybody with any common sense could have seen what was going on in Narconon and pushed for its closure, so in my opinion, I feel he is responsible for those who lost their lives out there,” Murphy said.

Kerns' department conducted the initial investigation before it was turned over to the Pittsburg County District Attorney's Office, he said Wednesday.

The OSBI completed two partial investigations at Narconon related to Stacy Murphy's death. Kerns first called them to assist documenting the crime scene on July 19, 2012, bureau spokeswoman Jessica Brown said.

The district attorney asked for the agency's help again in March 2013 to interview witnesses about Murphy's death, Brown said.

"As far as I know, we did everything feasibly possible that we had our means to,” Kerns said about the investigation.

Murphy and Henderson's criticism hinged in part on newly discovered information revealed in a deposition with Kerns.

In the deposition, Kerns reportedly said he did not speak with anyone from Narconon Arrowhead during the investigation, did not review surveillance footage from the facility and never read the OSBI's final report into the deaths.

These statements coupled with a 2013 TV news interview Kerns gave, in which he says his department's investigation found nothing out of order at the facility, prove he's unqualified, Murphy and Henderson said.

The deposition will be made public when Murphy's case goes to trial, Henderson said.

When asked about the apparent contradiction between his on-air statements and the deposition, Kerns said he couldn't comment because of ongoing court proceedings.

"I really can't even comment on what I did say," Kerns said.

Murphy's attorneys are seeking a date for a jury trial. They filed an application to set a pretrial conference Oct. 24, according to online court records.

Neither Murphy nor Henderson live in District 7 and said they wanted to expose Kerns' "incompetency" to help voters.

“We have no stake in the race at all, and all we want is the constituent base to be informed to cast a vote that counts,” Henderson said.

The two alleged that the initial deaths should have warranted a more thorough investigation from the Sheriff's Office before more people died.

Kerns denied any wrongdoing and said his critics were playing "political games."

"We contacted the proper agencies and proper channels to properly investigate the accusations,” Kerns said.

A Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services report into practices at Narconon Arrowhead, a program based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, recommended the facility be shut down after the string of deaths.

On its website, the facility bills itself as "non-religious" and claims students — as participants in the program are called — don't become Scientologists via enrollment in the facility.

The facility is still operating beside Lake Eufaula near Canadian in Pittsburg County.


Paighten Harkins


Twitter: @PaightenHarkins


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