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Teen sex, Dr. Phil and Utah collide in federal lawsuit

Published May 23, 2014 3:58 pm

Courts • Lawsuit has makings of daytime talk show fodder ­— Oh wait, it already was.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's a story made for daytime TV.

Two teens having sex before witnessing a third partner's murder. Hookups with older men arranged online. Parents berated on air by Dr. Phil and then one of the teen's confinement in a youth treatment center in Utah, where she allegedly suffered physical abuse at the hands of staff.

Sad but true, according to allegations in a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court for Utah.

Terri and David Myers of Missouri are suing the Dr. Phil organization, Bain Capital and the Island View Academy, among others, over allegations involving their 15-year-old daughter.

Their tale begins with the daughter and a female friend of the same age engaging in sex with a 19-year-old, who then is shot to death in front of the girls by a "jealous teenaged male."

In response to that trauma, the girl, identified by her initials, "started seeking sex online with older men," according to the suit filed in January.

Her "deeply concerned" parents then enrolled her in therapy provided by Missouri. However, those sessions "did not seem appropriate, proper, or helpful," and they then turned to Dr. Phil McGraw of the "Dr. Phil" television show on which he offers advice and help to troubled people.

In a Feb. 23, 2013, episode, the couple say McGraw "induced them to submit to his brand of blunt ridicule for their not being more vigilant" and berated Terri Myers and the daughter for their behaviors.

McGraw then offered free therapy for the teen at Island View, a residential treatment facility in Syracuse, Utah, that the lawsuit describes as a "private prison" where she was hurt in a dispute with a staff member. Island View is owned by a division of Bain Capital, according to the lawsuit.

Chip Babcock, a Texas attorney who represents the Dr. Phil organization, said the couple signed releases before going on the show and that the TV personality had no control over her visit at the Utah facility.

"Dr. Phil had absolutely nothing to do with any treatment the plaintiffs received after they left the show," said Babcock, who said Dr. Phil had not been served with the lawsuit and that he had sent a letter to the Myers' attorney threatening sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Babcock also noted the "publicity value" of adding McGraw's name to the suit.

Kevin Murphy, an attorney for Island View, said he will be filing a response soon in court.

"Other than to say that Island View denies any wrongdoing, I have no further comment," he wrote in an email.

The teen was held at Island View against her will with no contact allowed with anyone outside the facility, the suit claims. During a "melee" involving a male teacher, the girl suffered a broken arm and nerve damage.

The suit asks for unspecified damages plus costs on claims of false imprisonment, negligence, conspiracy and fraud, among other things.

Thomas M. Burton, the Utah attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Myers, did not return an email seeking more information.

Federal court records show Burton has made practically a mini-industry of suing teen-help facilities such as Island View. Burton appears to have at least five such suits pending in court.

tharvey@sltrib.com