Lawyers representing the Church of Scientology pocket millions by helping it achieve its ends. Perjury, victim-blaming, obstructing justice–it appears that any tactic is perfectly acceptable in the defense of Scientology.
Within several weeks of his son’s death, Tom Brennan hired former Hillsborough County State Attorney Paul Johnson to represent him. It’s fairly obvious, however, that it wasn’t Brennan who was paying for the legal representation. How so?
Tom Brennan, at the time of Kyle’s death, was employed by the mega-wealthy Church of Scientology. His title was “Director of Public Book Sales.” Brennan’s salary for this illustrious-sounding position ranged between twenty and thirty dollars per week. He supplemented these meager Scientology-slave wages by working at various menial jobs. Brennan hawked rugs alongside a Florida interstate highway, and he also worked as a handyman for Gerald and Denise Miscavige Gentile. Under Denise’s direction, Brennan mowed the Gentile lawn, shopped for the family groceries, and made various repairs to one of the “newsworthy” Pinellas County rental properties owned by Gerald. (Why was this particular property “news-worthy”? According to a front-page piece published by the Tampa Bay Tribune, Denise Miscavige Gentile, in an act of charitable kindness, had been accepting from down-on-their-luck tenants marijuana cigarettes in lieu of rent.)
So, who had the upper hand in the police investigation? Was it Detective Stephen Bohling of the Clearwater Police Department or attorney Paul Johnson?
Perhaps surprisingly, Tom Brennan—Kyle’s father and the surviving person who knows best what happened on the night of February 16, 2007—was interviewed by the police three times . . . and yet none of the notes taken by the interviewing police officers survive, none!
Brennan was first interviewed by Clearwater Police Officer Jonathan Yuen on the night of the tragedy. Yuen later claimed that he destroyed his notes. The second interview—conducted by Detective Stephen Bohling—took place on March 6, 2007. He also said that he destroyed his notes.
Is this standard operating procedure for the Clearwater Police Department?! If it is, it’s certainly not supposed to be. Should a police officer who arrives first at a potential crime scene destroy his notes? Not according to the U.S. Department of Justice handbook entitled “Eyewitness Evidence” (available online at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/178240.pdf). On page 14 it states “that a preliminary investigating officer shall obtain and accurately document and preserve information from the witness(es). Preservation and documentation . . . are necessary for a thorough preliminary investigation.” Throughout the handbook, “documentation” of information obtained, and the “preservation” of that information is stressed.
What about the documentation of Brennan’s third police interview? According to Bohling, on November 8, 2007, he requested a third Brennan interview. When Bohling contacted attorney Paul Johnson to arrange a date and time, Johnson stated that he wanted to monitor the telephone conversation between Bohling and his client. This would require a three-way call, and this police interview—if conducted from the Communications Center at the Clearwater Police Department—would have automatically been recorded. However, Detective Stephen Bohling—who by 2007, had worked the bulk of his nineteen years as a police officer with the Clearwater Police—later testified that he couldn’t figure out how to utilize the police department’s three-way call system in order to record the interview.
Why didn’t he simply ask someone for help? Is Bohling so incompetent that 1) he couldn’t remember how to use equipment he’d used before, and 2) he didn’t comprehend that somebody at the police department must have known how to operate the three-way system, and 3) he was incapable of asking for help or was there possibly a reason that the detective didn’t want the interview recorded in the first place?
According to Bohling’s police report, attorney Paul Johnson saved the day by offering to do the three-way interview using the system at his law firm. But Bohling—in perhaps a ham-handed attempt to manipulate the information—contradicted himself in his own report. On page 29, he stated that “Attorney Johnson advised [on November 8, 2007] that he did not wish to have the interview with Thomas Brennan recorded.” And, of course, the lawyer from the Scientology-funded firm got his wish. The third and final interview with Brennan went unrecorded and all the notes taken by the detective were destroyed. Any reasonable person would have to wonder why.
All of this—the lies, the mishandling of information, the obstruction of justice—came at the expense of a twenty-year-old college student whose existence—to the powerful and corrupt powers-that-be in Clearwater, Florida—was absolutely meaningless.
Clearwater Police Department; The Fox and the Henhouse
Mrs. Britton, I’m not trying to say anything. You have indicated in your testimony yesterday and today that you were upset with a variety of different law enforcement agencies and people because they did not conduct a very good investigation into the events surrounding Kyle’s death. And I’m asking you what investigation did you conduct and what did you do to preserve the findings of that investigation and inquiry–Attorney Lee Fugate
In February 2007 my twenty-year-old son, Kyle paid a visit to his Scientologist father, Tom Brennan, in Clearwater, Florida, the site of the Church of Scientology’s world headquarters. Kyle—who was not a Scientologist—was under the care of a psychiatrist who had prescribed for him Lexapro, an antidepressant.
One of the major tenets of Scientology is that psychiatry and psychiatric medications are evil: they’re forbidden. As a practicing Scientologist, Brennan could not have a relationship with Kyle if Kyle was violating that tenet. (In fact, according to Scientology, Kyle’s use of his prescribed medication made him an “SP”—a “Suppressive Person”—someone to be reviled and avoided.) So Brennan reported this state-of-affairs to his Scientology “auditor,” Denise Miscavige Gentile—twin sister of Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige—and to his other superiors in the Church. Even though Kyle was not a Scientologist, Brennan received written orders from the Church to remove his son from his apartment and “handle” the situation per Scientology policy.
Thirty-six hours later Kyle was dead.
(Perhaps the subject of a future blog posting, “handling”—as per Scientology—may involve a wide range of actions. It’s not necessarily as innocuous a procedure as it sounds.)
Detective Stephen Bohling of the Clearwater, Florida, Police Department was the lead investigator looking into Kyle’s extremely suspicious death. His investigation, however, was careless and sloppy, even perjurious. Many quandaries were left unanswered and several deponents who’d obviously contradicted themselves walked away without further questioning. Bohling’s official police report, as can be imagined, was riddled with half-truths and lies. Facts critical to the case were omitted.
Detective Bohling was deposed on July 12, 2010, by Attorney Lee Fugate (the attorney representing defendant’s Denise Miscavige Gentile and her husband Jerry Gentile). During the direct examination, the Clearwater detective comes across as compassionate and caring—in fact overly-so, like someone overcompensating to counteract his real personality.
During Fugate’s questioning, too, Bohling lied about the “thoroughness” of his investigation, making it appear that he’d examined the case from every angle, pursued all the possibilities. “Apparently . . . you acted immediately upon each of the suggestions that he [Kyle’s older brother Scott] made to you and followed up on those?” asked Fugate. “I believe that I did as I documented it,” answered Bohling. “I felt that I had an obligation to the family to follow up on any concerns that they had and I did just that.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The list of unanswered questions—and obvious contradictory statements made by the defendants—presented to Bohling by Kyle’s family in the vain hope of finding the truth fills several pages.
Most disturbing, however, was how Bohling—under oath and in official documents—fabricated a false image of me, a grieving mother. He portrayed me as borderline hysterical, someone unable to accept the death of her child, someone making unrealistic demands and absurd accusations. “It was difficult at times to try and explain things to Victoria in a manner that she would understand. . . .” stated Bohling in his deposition. “At times I was accused of things that were just not true. You know, that I had connections to the Church of Scientology. I was being paid by the Church of Scientology.” More lies by Detective Bohling—I never accused him of being a Scientologist or of being paid by the Church.
Bohling referred to these fictitious accusations when, during his deposition, he described a September 7, 2007, meeting he had with Attorney Luke Lirot (the lawyer then-representing the estate of Kyle Brennan). “[C]omplaints are being made,” Bohling said he told Attorney Lirot, complaints that are “just clouding the investigation. We can’t have that.” (Here the detective overestimated his ability to recall important facts and dates. At the time of this Bohling-Lirot meeting, no complaints had been made regarding his faulty investigation.)
Bohling claimed, too, that he told Lirot he wanted “communication to go on with Victoria.” He also claimed he said: “I wanted her [Victoria Britton] to be aware of what was going on with her son’s case. . . .” Then why is it that this meeting was the only contact between Bohling and Attorney Lirot until Bohling closed the case in November of 2009, just two months shy of the Florida statute of limitations’ deadline? Was Detective Bohling really interested in keeping Kyle’s family informed? Was he actually interested in resolving those unanswered questions?
The answer to that question is found in a July 1, 2008, letter from Attorney Lirot to Detective Bohling, a letter written almost eleven months after the above-described open-lines-of communication meeting. “After being retained in June of 2007,” wrote Lirot, “I cannot be surprised that my client thinks that I am incapable of getting any final answers on the investigation involving the death of Kyle Brennan. I will not level any criticism at you or the CPD [the Clearwater Police Department], but where does this investigation stand?” Here Attorney Lirot’s dissatisfaction with Bohling’s lack of communication is clearly evident.
The result of Detective Bohling’s fraudulent behavior was a miscarriage of justice. Bohling’s police report is a collection of misrepresentations, half-truths, and outright lies. As soon as this public document became available, the Scientology lawyers—the attorneys representing Scientologists Tom Brennan, and Denise and Jerry Gentile, as well as the Church itself—tacked it onto their motion for summary judgment (their request that the judge rule in their favor and dismiss the case before it went to trial). Detective Bohling’s fabricated police report made sure that my point of view regarding this case—my list of unanswered questions and glaring contradictions—was never heard by a Florida jury.
Indeed, Kyle’s extremely suspicious death was never properly investigated in the first place.
Detective Stephen Bohling made sure of this by falsely claiming that he’d conducted a thorough investigation. According to Bohling and subsequently the Scientology lawyers, Kyle’s death was investigated by not one, but by three separate agencies. This misrepresentation appeared in court documents filed in the Federal Middle District Court of Florida, and in court documents submitted to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals located in Jacksonville, Florida. What were the three Florida agencies that supposedly left no stone unturned while investigating Kyle’s suspicious death?: Bohling’s Clearwater Police Department, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Florida branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI.
There is a kernel of truth at the core of this statement. I contacted the Florida State Attorney’s Office and the FBI regarding Detective Stephen Bohling’s unprofessional behavior and shoddy investigation. All of that correspondence I carefully saved and filed.
Here’s the pertinent question: Was Kyle’s case investigated by the FBI as claimed by the defendants’ attorneys? No, it was not.
What about the investigation supposedly conducted by the State Attorney’s Office? Following the advice of then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum—he wrote saying that his office did not “have the legal authority to investigate the actions of law enforcement officers as they pursue their official duties”—I contacted the Sixth Judicial State Attorney’s Office. In January of 2008 that office assigned investigator Doug Barry, himself a former Clearwater Police Officer, to “look into the investigation conducted by the Clearwater Police Department.”
Detective Bohling stated in his deposition that “I opened up my books, everything to him. . . . [He] looked over everything that I had done to that date and eventually, they came up with the same conclusion that I did. I know they also conferred with the Medical Examiner’s Office as “I had early on reviewed all their documents to make sure that everything had been done properly.”
What’s disturbing about Doug Barry’s investigative work—is the lack of it. Kyle’s case was less than a year old when Barry was assigned to look into it. And it would be wrong to conjecture exactly what information Detective Bohling provided when he “opened” his books. I, too, opened my books for Barry—I wrote to him about the numerous times Kyle’s father, Tom Brennan, had contradicted himself in statements made within days of Kyle’s death.
“The result of Barry’s “investigation” In a letter dated June 27, 2008, Barry stated that, in fact, he did not conduct an independent investigation—he merely “reviewed” Bohling’s incomplete report.
The fact is: If the State Attorney’s Office had conducted an actual investigation they would have discovered the case’s many glaring contradictions. (Instead, all of this work was left to me.)
One thing is certain: The State Attorney’s Office sending Doug Barry—a former Clearwater policeman—to look into the misconduct of a detective from his former workplace is a perfect example of that popular ancient proverb about the fox guarding the henhouse.
Anybody would have to conclude that in the State of Florida justice cannot be found when it involves the Church of Scientology.
In the years since Kyle’s death—residing in a new world-turned-upside-down—I’ve struggled with the grief over the loss of a child and the arduous challenge of suing the Church of Scientology. The Church of Scientology, as most people realize, is a very wealthy and litigious organization. Based on the writings of founder L. Ron Hubbard, they have no qualms whatsoever about using the most ruthless and heinous tactics when it comes to the law. To high-ranking Scientologists, lawsuits are not merely dispute resolutions, they’re acts of war. The Church of Scientology is ever willing to twist the law in order to destroy those it perceives as opponents. (Kyle was considered by Scientologists to be an “enemy of the Church” simply because he was seeing a psychiatrist and was taking psychiatric medication. See the blog post entitled “Heart of Darkness (Part I): The ‘Handling’ of Kyle Brennan.”)
“The law can be used very easily to harass,” wrote Hubbard in The Scientologist, a Manual on the Dissemination of Material, “and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway . . . will generally be sufficient to cause professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.”
This is the stratagem they used against me. Despite the fact that they’d stopped our wrongful-death lawsuit—effectively muffling anything said legally on behalf of my dead son—they proceeded, after their victory, to sue me for just under $1 million. Fortunately, the judge threw this attempt out.
Who pays the price when the rule of law is purposely distorted in order to bully honest citizens into submission? And what of Scientology’s next set of victims? How many more will suffer because the bullies haven’t been stopped?
On August 27, 2008, defendant Denise Miscavige Gentile, with her attorney in tow—Lee Fugate from the law firm of Zuckerman, Spaeder, LLP—arrived at the Clearwater Police Department for her first and only police interview. It was conducted by Detective Stephen Bohling (who headed up the investigation into Kyle’s death). Eighteen months had passed since Kyle had died.
In the recorded interview’s opening, Detective Bohling and lawyer Fugate engage in casual conversation. Then the attorney explains that he’d told Denise that if the detective asks her a difficult question she could talk with him—Lee Fugate—before replying. “[B]ut,” Fugate adds, “I don’t think you’re gonna have anything like that.”
Bohling—forgetting that the conversation is being recorded—says: “No. And I’m more than willing to work with you, as I said, on this case.” Obviously pleased, Fugate says: “Well, that’s—that’s fine.”
This statement by Bohling—“I’m more than willing to work with you . . . on this case”—might seem innocuous, but it was made by a detective who subsequently falsified police information, committed perjury, and seemingly aided and abetted the defendants in the evasion of justice.
Extremely troubling, too, is that during this recorded interview Fugate refers to a previous conversation with Bohling, perhaps a phone conversation. The fact that this attorney/detective communication was not documented raises additional questions.
Bohling’s subsequent lie-filled police report was attached to Denise Miscavige Gentile and husband Gerald’s answer/response to the wrongful-death complaint filed by attorney Lee Fugate and later used in court documents filed in federal court by the defendants. This is how the defendants weaseled their way out of the wrongful-death lawsuit. This is how they escaped justice. It all began with Detective Bohling helping these celebrity Scientologist defendants.
The detective later falsified information when he wrote his police report. Under the very important heading “Investigative Conclusion,” for example, Bohling wrote that Kyle “had been exhibiting early signs of Schizophrenia to include paranoia and delusions and that Lexapro had been prescribed. Kyle’s doctor, Dr. [Stephen] McNamara advised that Lexapro should be administered on a long-term basis in order to attain the proper results. . . . Dr. McNamara also advised that he was not aware of any major side effects if one was to suddenly stop taking the medication. . . .”
Here are the documented facts: Dr. McNamara was deposed on June 16, 2010. Under oath, Dr. McNamara expressed astonishment at the lies told by the police detective, perjury committed at the expense of an innocent twenty-year-old.
“I—I’m perplexed and dumbfounded,” stated Dr. McNamara. “Number one, I’m bound by confidentiality” to not reveal “information about someone’s treatment. . . .”
“Number two, I’m—stated here [as] stating that Kyle had a diagnosis that I did not make.”
“And lastly,” this statement regarding “major side effects if one was to suddenly stop taking Lexapro. . . . [W]e all, as a profession, have known this since the ‘90s. This—this is not something I would ever say.”
Moments later, Dr. McNamara stated under oath that he’d never spoken at all to Detective Bohling about Kyle, never!
Detective Bohling also omitted important information from his police report. In the first phone conversation I had with him, for example, the detective told me that the night Kyle died Scientologist Gerald Gentile was inside Tom Brennan’s apartment prior to the police. When I questioned this, Bohling said that Gentile had a right to be there. This crucial piece of information was left out of Bohling’s narrative of that evening’s events.
Truth is what drives our judicial system. Everything is based on this simple, and very necessary, virtue. For this reason, the public is always willing to give a police officer, or police detective, the benefit of the doubt. This despite the unfortunate fact that public servants sometimes lie, commit perjury, and obstruct justice. When an officer betrays his responsibilities—betrays his Oath of Honor—in this fundamental way, he makes a mockery of our judicial system. Criminals escape justice, lives are ruined and lost, families are crushed. Unfortunately, this illegal behavior by Stephen Bohling had a direct impact on the outcome of my wrongful-death lawsuit.
What became of Detective Stephen Bohling? He quietly retired from the Clearwater Police Department.
Five years after Kyle’s death, an interesting story was reported by WTSP News in Tampa. On November 9, 2012, Mark C. Rathbun—Scientology’s former number-two man—gave sworn testimony accusing Clearwater-area judges and lawyers of criminal wrongdoing regarding another Scientology-related lawsuit.
Rathbun alleged that the Church of Scientology spent at least $30 million to cover up the tragic 1995 death of a woman in Scientology care. This was Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who, after a minor traffic accident, told fellow Scientologists she needed psychiatric help. Instead, they took her to the Fort Harrison Hotel—the religion’s headquarters—where McPherson died seventeen days later. Her family sued the Church of Scientology saying they’d simply let her die. Criminal prosecution was brought by the Pinellas State Attorney’s office.
According to WTSP News: “The Church was charged with a second-degree felony for practicing medicine without a license, and [the] abuse of a disabled adult. However, the charges were dropped after Pinellas Medical Examiner Joan Wood changed the cause of death from unknown to accidental.”
Rathbun, however, alleged that the cause of death was changed because the Church of Scientology “showered gifts on the Medical Examiner’s attorney.”
And Rathbun had something to say about attorney Lee Fugate. In his sworn testimony, Rathbun stated that Fugate, a former prosecutor, was hired by he and Scientology leader David Miscavige to have illegal ex parte meetings with judges involved in the McPherson case. (“Ex parte,” means one-sided, partisan.) According to Rathbun, those extra-legal meetings, plus the liberal rewarding of “at least $30 million,” got the charges dropped and lessened the damages in the civil suit. WTSP News claimed that the story had many other twists and turns. “Stay tuned,” they said. Unfortunately, WTSP News never provided a follow–up.
(In the case of Kyle’s death, similar wrong-doing was perpetrated by personnel in the Medical Examiner’s office. The Medical Examiner ruled Kyle’s cause of death a suicide saying that police officials told her a suicide note had been found on his person. The police later admitted there’d been no note. And—like Detective Bohling—Medical Investigator Martha Scholl lied about having contact with Kyle’s psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen McNamara.)
During my deposition in 2010, I had an interesting exchange with Lee Fugate. Following my complaint about the pathetically poor police investigation into Kyle’s death, attorney Fugate had the gall to ask: “[W]hat investigation did you conduct [Mrs. Britton] and what did you do to preserve the findings of that investigation. . . ?” Evidently, Fugate believes that in Florida private citizens are required to conduct their own police investigations. He believes that it’s a grieving parent’s responsibility to investigate the suspicious death of their child.
In the summer of 2012, I had a highly qualified expert in the field of criminology and police procedures analyze Detective Bohling’s investigation. “It is my conclusion,” he wrote, “that the [Kyle] Brennan investigation was a farce. It is clear to me that there is some connection between the Church of Scientology and [the] Clearwater Police Department, including the relationship between Detective Bohling and the [Church of Scientology], and that this investigation is replete with conflicts of interest and mishandled investigative procedures.”
In perfect lock-step with L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings, this is how the rule of law is contorted by Scientology’s lead counselors. This is how the morally bereft and aggressively litigious Church of Scientology continuously manages to get its way legally, even when it appears that its opponents have strong cases. Lying, victim-blaming, obstructing justice–it appears that any tactic is perfectly acceptable in the defense of the Church of Scientology.
The narratives above are all copyright 2021, Victoria Britton.
Grand jury investigation of Scientology from the State’s Attorney’s office.
Sep 7, 2004 … 1985: CoS attorney, Paul B. Johnson is tried in Orlando, FL, for allegedly bribing Hillsborough County commissioners to favor his client, Hubbard Construction Co. He is later defended by F. Lee Bailey.
Excerpts from the Deposition of Detective Stephen Bohling
Excerpts from the Clearwater Police Report
Excerpt from the Deposition of Officer Jonathan Yuen
Excerpt from the Deposition of Denise Miscavige Gentile
Clearwater Police Report: Gerald Gentile Interview
Who’s Footing the Bill?
Excerpts from the Deposition of Thomas Brennan