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Parents Say Dr. Phil Exploited Troubled Teen

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Parents claim "showman" Dr. Phil paid to have their teenage daughter locked up at a "private prison" where her arm was mangled in a melee with a math teacher, after the girl saw a lover killed as they had sex and then was caught seeking sex online.

Terri and David Myers sued the Dr. Phil Organization, Bain Capital, CRC Health Group, Aspen Education Group, Island View Academy and math teacher Ryan Mortensen, in Federal Court.

The Missouri family claims in the lawsuit that the "vaunted television psychologist," Phil McGraw, exploited them after their 15-year-old daughter, S.M., "was caught soliciting sex on the Internet."

According to the 25-page lawsuit, S.M. "was with a 15 year-old female friend, both having consensual sex with an adult male when another man arrived and killed in front of them the individual with whom they had been involved. S.M., in response to having had sex underage amounting to rape, started seeking for sex online with older men."

"Deeply concerned" by their daughter's "bizarre and dangerous" behavior, the Myers say, they turned to McGraw for help.

On air in February 2013, McGraw "charged Terri Myers [with] failing her daughter by 'a country mile' and the daughter of total naiveté in thinking that her Internet contacts might be having emotional problems just as she was," the complaint states. "Dr. Phil's psychological remedy was to offer free treatment for the daughter at Island View, a Utah punitive behavior modification lock-down facility. Dr. Phil, however, knew or should have known, that any placement at Island View would subject S.M. to such a demented regimen that she would be at risk of her problems being exacerbated."

McGraw, the Myers say, "never addressed the trauma this young woman had already suffered by having the 19-year old that she and an equally young female friend had just had sex with, shot to death in front of them by the molester's friend, a jealous teen-aged male. Dr. Phil thus ignored the causes of S.M.'s trauma and then exacerbated that trauma by paying Island View to lock her up far from home in a private prison."

Bain Capital purchased Aspen Education, owner of Island View, for $300 million in 2006.

Analysts estimated that companies like Aspen had profit margins of 10 to 20 percent of revenue, The New York Times reported in 2005, according to the Myers' lawsuit.

The Myers say their daughter was made to complete "mindless tasks of blind obedience enforced by cruel punishment" at Island View, leading up to a melee with Mortensen and "mindless" guards.

"When a math teacher, Ryan Mortensen, told her to stay after school, she refused and went to her room. He then came after her and ordered her to an isolation room for time out. She refused that too in emphatic and obscene language and told him to leave her alone. He then pulled her off her bed, and called for help from three others to enforce his command. In the melee that ensued, there was a loud 'pop' that stopped everyone in his tracks. S.M.'s right (dominant) arm was badly and perhaps irreparably broken, and its main nerve severely damaged. Given the rapes and murder she had been through, the last thing any untrained male should have done was to assault her." (Parentheses in complaint.)

The Myers claim that McGraw is a "showman," who separated them from their daughter "against their respective wills."

"Dr. Phil has shown himself to be a showman more interested in ratings than a psychologist devoted to healing," the complaint states. "Dr. Phil, on information and belief, was paid either in money or notoriety, or both, for endorsing not only Island View, but also a raft of CRC compounds just as abusive.

"Compounds like Island View market themselves as boarding schools, academies, therapeutic treatment centers, ranches, or wilderness experience designed to straighten out truant or failing teens. Their failures to do so are endemic and epidemic. They leave a trail of post traumatic stress and nightmares. Their extravagant fees suggest great expertise and cloak minimal credentials.

"S.M. was thrust into Island View without the slightest understanding of what she was getting into, and had no choice in the matter. For Dr. Phil, she represented one in a string of damaged teenagers that he boasted [of] helping, accompanied by his psychological opinions that such tough love was just the treatment they needed. There was no forum for complaint, explanation, appeal, or grievance against the placement, before, during, or after it occurred. The only option was to bear it, for Island View, like all other such places was locked and closely guarded.

"Once confined, no contact with the outside world was allowed and [S.M.] knew that any disparaging remark or complaint about the prison would be punished by isolation and losing all privileges earned, meaning making the teenager start at the bottom anew to rise from level to level by successfully completing mindless tasks of blind obedience enforced by cruel punishment."

The Myers seek punitive damages for fraud, false imprisonment and breach of fiduciary duty.

They are represented by Thomas Burton.

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