Clearwater Police Department; The Fox and the Henhouse

Clearwater Police Department; The Fox and the Henhouse

“As Scientology grew in the Clearwater area, it often hired local off-duty police officers as a private police force. Did this built-in conflict of interest affect the investigation?” 

In February 2007, my twenty-year-old son, Kyle, visited 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 Lexapro, an antidepressant.

One of the central 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 violated that tenet. (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.

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 questions were left unanswered, and several deponents who’d 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 Denise Miscavige Gentile and her husband, Jerry Gentile).

During Fugate’s questioning, Bohling lied about the “thoroughness” of his investigation, making it appear that he’d examined the case from every angle and 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 I did as I documented it,” answered Bohling. “I felt that I had an obligation to the family to follow up on their concerns, 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 many pages.

Also disturbing was how Detective Stephen Bohling—under oath and in official documents—fabricated a false image of a grieving mother, portraying me as borderline hysterical, unable to accept her child’s death, and making unrealistic demands and 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. The Church of Scientology was paying me.”  To date, Bohling was never been held accountable for his unconscionable accusations, corrupt behavior, and perjury.

Bohling referred to these fictitious accusations when, during his deposition, he described the September 7, 2007, meeting 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 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 interested in keeping Kyle’s family informed? Was he 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 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 ensured 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 investigated correctly in the first place.

Detective Stephen Bohling ensured this by falsely claiming 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 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.

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, 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. 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 investigate 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 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.

Clearwater Police Department-Fugate Image

The exchange between Attorney Lee Fugate and Detective Stephen Bohling

Detective Stephen Bohling-Fugate Exchange 001

“Absolute Power…”

The narratives above are all copyright 2023, Victoria Britton.

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