DR. PHIL CAUGHT IN CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL

Published on: January 20, 2005

Dr. Phil McGraw -- TV's titan of tough love -- is embroiled in a shocking child abuse scandal!

The advice guru arranged a troubled teen's enrollment at a residential treatment center. But The ENQUIRER has discovered that the center has been accused of abuses ranging from inhumane treatment to cruel and unusual punishment.

Three former residents have described the place -- Provo Canyon School in Utah -- as "pure hell" and even liken it to a "maximum security prison"!

"I can't even fathom the thought of Dr. Phil recommending parents send their children to Provo," former Provo Canyon resident Angela Smith told The ENQUIRER.

COLDHEARTED
"Dr. Phil is either oblivious to the horrendous acts of emotional and physical torment that go on behind Provo's closed doors, or he's so coldhearted that he simply doesn't care about the blatant mistreatment of children."

On November 24, a family appeared on a segment of "Dr. Phil" entitled "Afraid of My Child's Behavior." Parents identified as Terri and David claimed their 15-year-old daughter was obsessed with violence and murder, and exhibited destructive behavior that was beyond their control.

Terri even claimed she was marked for death on a "hit list" of 27 people her daughter wanted killed.

Dr. Phil's answer to this family's problem was to send their daughter to Provo Canyon School, which shares the tough love approach he espouses.

And not only did Dr. Phil recommend the school to the teen's parents -- he arranged her enrollment there!

Dr. Phil boasted about the program's "proven record of turning young kids' lives around."

But three former students of Provo Canyon were horrified to learn about Dr. Phil's recommendation.

'AS BAD AS PRISON'
"I've seen things happen to kids at Provo Canyon School that are as bad as anything inside a maximum-security prison!" Angela Smith charges.

At 15, Angela overdosed on pills in a failed suicide attempt that was prompted by a family member who she alleges sexually abused her.

In need of therapeutic treatment, Angela viewed a promotional videotape of Provo Canyon.

"The video made Provo look like some kind of Club Med vacation resort," Angela revealed.

"They painted the picture of a healthy healing environment with a staff of therapists available to help residents around the clock."

But from the moment Angela began her 8-week stay at the school in 1989, she says the facility was a far cry from what she saw on the video, she told The ENQUIRER.

"As soon as I arrived, the staff confiscated all my personal items and made me undergo a strip search.

"There was no privacy whatsoever and the residents were never out of the staff's sight.

"We had to get dressed in front of strangers, shower together and go to the bathroom in stalls with no doors.

'EXTREME TORTURE'
"I found out quickly that if I broke the rules I would be subjected to extreme forms of mental and physical torture.

"On my first night at Provo I was shown the proper way to make my bed. A few days after that one of the staff tore the blanket from my bunk bed and pointed out a wrinkle in the bottom sheet.

"For that small wrinkle I was given one week in a 6-by-6 concrete cell known as the Investment Area -- which residents quietly referred to as 'The Dungeons.'

"I had to stand in one place for 10 to 12 hours at a time and stare at the concrete wall the entire time without moving. The rooms were cold, damp, very unsanitary and usually infested with bugs.

"Even worse punishment came in what they called the Observation Room, which is nothing more than a cold, dark, empty room with no bed or toilet.

"I heard stories that the staff would ignore residents' pleas to use the rest room, forcing them to relieve themselves in a drain in the floor.

"I witnessed students being physically abused. One girl was beaten so badly she slipped into a temporary coma. She was later sent to an Observation Room to be disciplined, but returned with a broken nose, broken ribs and a broken arm.

"Another time a boy tried to escape. He was captured and brought back in a full body cast.

"I wrote to my mom and tried to tell her about the girl who was put in a coma, but my counselor intercepted the letter and threatened to inflict physical violence on me if I didn't tear it up."

Angela's mom Catherine Smith told The ENQUIRER that her daughter was barely recognizable by the time she left Provo Canyon.

"Within two months she had lost at least 35 pounds and was as pale as a ghost.

"I broke down into tears the first time I saw her because she looked like a walking corpse."

Angela, now a 30-year-old pre-law student at the University of Washington, started the Web site www.heal-online.org.

"The main objective of our site is to expose Provo Canyon School and similar types of programs," she explained.

"It's beyond me how someone who claims to know as much about psychology as Dr. Phil would recommend a child be sent to Provo as a solution to a family's problems."

Angela Smith is not alone. According to court documents obtained by The ENQUIRER, former Provo Canyon student David Taylor successfully sued the school in 1995.

Years earlier, an appeals court in Utah ruled in favor of two former students who filed suit against the school, alleging cruel and unusual punishment, anti-therapeutic and inhumane treatment and denial of due process of law.

A representative for the school responded: "The majority of these claims concern incidents that took place years ago, prior to the current ownership."

But according to a student who left Provo Canyon recently, much of the abuse alleged in those court documents and claimed by Angela Smith is still going on.

"On my second day at Provo I broke my hand playing basketball," Jason Kan, 18 -- who was a resident from October 2003 to March 2004 -- told The ENQUIRER.

"It swelled up at least three times its normal size, but instead of letting me seek medical attention the staff accused me of faking the injury.

"Three days later, after my swollen hand turned several shades of purple, the staff finally agreed to take me to the hospital.

NEEDED SURGERY
"Doctors shrieked in disbelief when they saw the condition of my hand and said I immediately needed to undergo surgery!

"I can remember two kids who were so desperate to escape from Provo that they removed a drain pipe from the bottom of a sink and used it as a weapon to take the keys away from a staff member.

"They were eventually captured, brought back and tortured in the Observation Room for days."

Rachel Roberts of San Diego was discharged from Provo Canyon School in December 2002 after spending what she describes as 26 months of pure hell.

SOUR AND LUMPY MILK
"The food was so unhealthy that it wasn't fit to feed an animal. Sometimes the milk they served us was so old that it had turned sour and lumpy," Rachel, 18, told The ENQUIRER.

"I lost close to 30 pounds by the time I was discharged.

"I knew one girl who had her nose broken after staff smashed her face into a wall for not obeying an order.

"I've been out of Provo for two years and I am still haunted by flashbacks.

"I think Dr. Phil should be investigated for malpractice for recommending Provo Canyon School to parents on his show!"

-- RACHEL ROBERTS