For the first time in California history a corporation is being charged with murder—and the accused company is an addiction treatment provider. The case concerns 53-year-old Gary Benefield, who in 2010 arrived at the treatment facility A Better Tomorrow in Murrieta, seeking treatment for his alcohol problem.
Benefield, a heavy smoker, was in very poor health and on oxygen treatment following a recent bout of pneumonia. Tragically, the staff member charged with taking care of him at the Murrieta residential facility fell asleep on duty and at some point during night, Benefield died.
Benefield’s family sued the company and received a settlement. But the Californian attorney general then took the unprecedented step of filing second-degree murder charges against the company and four of its employees.
The prosecutors assert that A Better Tomorrow, which has featured more than once on the A&E show Intervention, knowingly took a patient they knew they were not equipped to handle. The staff did not refill his oxygen tank, and employees without sufficient medical training administered medicine which may have contributed to his death.
The company is contesting that it is not responsible because the coroner who performed the autopsy on Benefield listed the cause of death as “Natural Causes.” However, this is not the first time that A Better Tomorrow has been accused of misconduct; in 2012 the California Senate Office of Oversight issued a report concerning four deaths at its facilities. The report concluded that the state had insufficiently policed the facilities and that there were troubling incidents when uncertified employees gave medical treatment or neglected to.
Former employees assert that the company operates with a priority on filling beds without sufficient consideration for how well equipped the facilities are to handle the specific health problems of certain clients. Former operations director Jose Ochoa said in a statement “we were under tremendous pressure to bring in paying clients… regardless of any health issues.”
Now murder charges have been filed against against A Better Tomorrow and its employees. This development will doubtless cause plenty of people in the troubled rehab industry to pay renewed attention to the importance of safeguarding clients’ health in every way.