A group affiliated with the Church of Scientology is claiming that patient abuse at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) is rampant - an allegation that could be the source of a federal investigation into the facility. ASH first received a notice of investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in February.
ASH Spokeswoman Barrie Hafler said the DOJ was looking into "conditions of care and treatment of residents and systematic violations of the Constitution and human rights" during the past two years.
While it's unclear exactly who or what prompted the DOJ investigation, it is known that the Los Angeles-based Citizens' Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a group started by the Church of Scientology, is closely connected to it.
The Church of Scientology is a religion based upon man's spirituality and was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
For the last two years CCHR's Jeff Griffin has been amassing a pile of complaints, signed affidavits, and interviews with patients who claim they were abused at ASH.
"I have well over 80 patients that are currently flowing information to us," Griffin said. "I began talking to the feds two years ago, and they've examined my data and they've checked my data and what has occurred [is] a result of the veracity [of] what I've given them."
According to the main Church of Scientology web site (Scientology.org), its members are "100 percent drug free," but Griffin said although he is a Scientologist and his group was started by the Church of Scientology the investigation is still solid and there is not a Scientology-driven agenda.
"I'm not going to feed them a bunch of bull," Griffin said. "They could care less whether I'm a Scientologist, a Roman Catholic, or an atheist. I am an independent organization. I am not religious. My organization is not religious. I'm here investigating abuses and they have learned that my data is very valid."
Griffin alleges that abuse at ASH is rampant. He says patients are commonly overmedicated, restraint devices are over-used, violent force is excessive, and sexual activities between staff and patients are prolific.
One patient, John Kreischer, who is in communication with Griffin, has told the Associated Press that sex between staffers and patients is "going on in my unit every day."
Kreischer is a convicted rapist and child molester.
About that, Hafler said: "That's an outrageous allegation. There have been cases of staff involvement, but these are clearly the exception. These situations are dealt with harshly."
One such case is that of staffer Jacqueline Lucille Collins, who left ASH after being accused of having an illicit sexual affair with a patient. Hafler points out that that incident is not included in the DOJ investigation. Collins has since left her job at ASH.
There are about 1,300 patients at ASH. It is home to all 555 male sexually violent predators currently incarcerated in California. According to Hafler, "the sexually violent predators are known to be a litigious group."
Griffin said even though many of his sources in ASH are convicted criminals and sexually violent predators, they still deserve basic human rights.
"Because a person is a felon and because he is in a, quote, mental institution does not preclude the fact that he does not have truth there. Most of these guys will admit their crime, but they also say they're not getting helped," said Griffin. "They tell me what goes on there. I have been able to verify more stories then I have not been able to verify."
Hafler thinks most of the recent press attention to the federal investigation into ASH is the result of a Scientology-driven media campaign.
"As it turns out with this, it's clear that the Church of Scientology is fueling a story that does not exist at this time; the DOJ has not come to the hospital [yet]," Hafler said.
But Griffin's investigations seem to be good enough for the DOJ to at least investigate, and he is confident that the DOJ will confirm his allegations.
"I have pulled medical records time and time again from psychiatric facilities. And it's a work of fiction," said Griffin. "My job is to expose psychiatry for exactly what it is, and it is a criminal organization that is ripping off taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars as a pseudo-science."
Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.