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Mom sues Church of Scientology in son's death

CLEARWATER — A mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology, its Flag Service Organization and three parishioners, claiming they brought about her son's death by denying him access to his antidepression medication.

Among the three parishioners named as defendants: Denise Gentile, the twin sister of the church's current worldwide leader, David Miscavige, as well as her husband, Gerald Gentile.

The lawsuit stems from the death of Kyle T. Brennan, 20, who shot himself in the head on Feb. 16, 2007, in Clearwater, while visiting his father, who is a Scientologist.

Police determined the death was a suicide, but Victoria Britton, the young man's mother, said Scientologists are responsible.

Filed in Tampa federal court Friday, the lawsuit claims Gentile and her husband persuaded Kyle Brennan's father to take away his Lexapro, which his son was taking for depression and anxiety.

The suit, which also names Thomas Brennan as a defendant, states that the defendants tried to put Kyle Brennan into a Narconon drug treatment program.

Kyle Brennan was not a Scientologist, the suit states.

The suit is being brought by attorney Ken Dandar, well-known for his extended legal battle against Scientology during the Lisa McPherson case. McPherson, a 36-year-old Scientologist, died in 1995 while in the care of church staffers in Clearwater.

Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis said the lawsuit is an attempt to "draw the church into something that we don't have anything to do with."

None of the Scientologists named as defendants were church staff members, he said. They were all just parishioners. And Davis emphasized that the events took place on private property without church involvement.

Even Narconon, the drug treatment program that uses L. Ron Hubbard's teachings, is a separate entity from the Church of Scientology, he said.

Still, the case draws attention to Scientology's opposition to psychiatric drugs like Lexapro, which it deems to be mind-altering.

The Web site for Lexapro warns users not to go off their medication suddenly, even if they are feeling better. Changes in dosage, it says, can cause patients on antidepressants to worsen their depression, show signs of mood changes and exhibit thoughts of suicide.

Before his death, Kyle Brennan lived at home in Charlottesville, Va., where he was attending college, Dandar said. He was in the second year of a liberal arts degree when he left school and traveled around the country, Dandar said.

Kyle Brennan made a number of stops, going as far west as Hawaii, but in February 2007 he found his way to Clearwater, to stay with his father, whom he hadn't seen since the summer before.

Dandar said Kyle was taking a 10 mg dose of Lexapro, which he descried as "moderate." It was prescribed for him in early 2006 to help him with depression and anxiety.

He continued to use the drug while staying in his dad's two-bedroom apartment at 423 Cleveland St. in Clearwater, Dandar said.

But a week into the stay, Denise Gentile and her husband prevailed upon Kyle's father to take away the Lexapro medication and lock it in his truck, the lawsuit alleges.

While Scientology spokesman Davis said Denise Gentile was not in any authority position at the church, the suit alleges she had the title of "chaplain" and was held up as an authority of sorts on helping families with emotional matters.

The Gentiles and Brennan also phoned Britton, the young man's mother, to try to persuade her to put Kyle in Narconon, the lawsuit states.

The mother, who is not a Scientologist, was adamant that she and her son did not want anything to do with the drug treatment, the lawsuit states. She insisted that her son be put back on Lexapro.

The medication remained locked away, the suit states.

On Feb. 16, 2007, just after 11 p.m., Kyle Brennan shot himself with a loaded .357 Magnum that he found in his father's apartment, the lawsuit states.

His father found him dead, his head slumped in a laundry basket.

The lawsuit said it is unclear how he got ahold of the gun, but it blames "one or more of the Defendants."

"They locked up his medicine, but not the loaded .357 Magnum. That's the story line," Dandar said. "I think that's the case."

Thomas Brennan did not return a phone call left on his voice mail. Neither Denise nor Gerald Gentile could be reached for comment.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Mom sues Church of Scientology in son's death 02/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 11:08am]
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