MURRIETA: Grand jury indicts five for drug rehab death

grand jury picA grand jury has indicted five employees of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation company after a 53-year-old man died under the company’s care.

Kristofer Michael McCausland, James Andrew Fent, Mignon Hernandez Dean and Jerrod Nathan Menz have each been charged with one count of murder and one count of dependent adult abuse, according to court records.

Tami Dawn Scarcella, another employee, was only charged with dependent adult abuse, according to the records.

The five are expected to make their first appearance in court Oct. 1.

All were employed by American Addiction Centers, the parent company of A Better Tomorrow Treatment Center in Murrieta, in July 2010. It was during this time that the treatment center took in Gary Benefield, 53.

Benefield died at the facility July 26, 2010, according to the indictment.

Benefield had recently battled pneumonia and was suffering from congestive heart failure when he was admitted to the rehab for alcohol detox, according to a separate civil suit filed by Benefield’s widow in June 2012. He was also dependent on oxygen.

The suit alleges Benefield was admitted without his prescription medications and without his necessary oxygen. It also alleges that no one checked on Benefield’s medical state during the evening he was admitted.

Benefield was found dead by a rehabilitation center employee the next morning, according to the suit.

A Better Tomorrow Treatment Center was not a medically supervised treatment center. In 2008, the center received a citation from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs for advertising itself as a medically managed detoxification facility. It was ordered to remove all such wording from its marketing and promotional items, according to the suit.

The 2012 civil suit eventually reached a settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed.

The indictment alleges the defendants admitted Benefield under “circumstances and conditions likely to produce great bodily harm and death” and knowingly allowed him to suffer.

It was filed and sealed July 21 and was unsealed July 29. The grand jury looked at evidence gained during an investigation by the California Department of Justice into Benefield’s death.

Officials with American Addiction Centers say they plan to vigorously contest charges that the company and its employees were liable in Benefield’s death.

The company is not currently aware of any evidence that the company or any of the individuals charged were responsible for the resident’s death,” spokesman David Green wrote in an email. “The coroner concluded the client died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.”

Kristin Ford, press secretary for the California Department of Justice, said an indictment happened nearly five years after Benefield’s death because of the nature of the case.

This is a complex case, which required time-intensive and significant investigative and prosecutorial efforts,” Ford wrote.

Ford said arrest warrants have been issued for each of the defendants.

Benefield’s death is one of multiple deaths that happened at the Murrieta treatment center.

A Better Tomorrow’s Murrieta location had one patient death in 2008 and two more patient deaths in 2009. The state sought to shut down the home after Benefield’s death, but it had already foreclosed, according to a California Senate report.


American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a provider of inpatient substance abuse treatment services. AAC treat adults as well as adolescents who are struggling with drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental/behavioral health issues. AAC’s treatment centers include: Greenhouse, Desert Hope, Singer Island, Forterus, The Academy and FitRx. AAC’s treatment services include: Adult Addiction Treatment Programs, Adolescent Drug Addiction Treatment Programs, Dual Diagnosis Curriculum, Systemic Family Intervention Program, Drug Recovery Aftercare Program, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling Services for Firefighters, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program for Law Enforcement Officers. AAC’s Addiction Treatment Programs include: Medical Detox, Residential Treatment (RT), Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).