A Colorado teen who alleges she was sexually assaulted at a Utah facility for “troubled” youth is suing Phil McGraw and ViacomCBS for negligence, alleging the star of the popular Dr. Phil show and his staff recommended and arranged for her treatment at Turn-About Ranch.
Plaintiff Hannah Archuleta, 19, says in her complaint filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court that she was shipped off to the ranch in Escalante, Utah, when she was 17 after appearing on an episode of Dr. Phil with her parents in October 2019.
The 26-page complaint obtained by Rolling Stone claims McGraw and show staff made glowing statements about the ranch and “pressured” Archuleta’s dad to send her there immediately while negligently failing to mention the “various complaints and charges of physical and emotional harm that befell minors sent to the facility.”
The lawsuit says one such red flag involved a 2012 lawsuit claiming ranch staff subjected a 15-year-old girl to threats of suffocation, physical abuse that left her bleeding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions akin to “torture.”
Archuleta and her lawyer Gloria Allred say in the lawsuit that Dr. Phil, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology but is not licensed to practice, pulled Archuleta’s dad into his private office before they appeared in front of a live studio audience and personally vouched for Turn-About Ranch.
“Hannah needs to go to the Ranch to have any chance at a good life. It’s that serious we help her right now and today,” Dr. Phil, whose full name is Phil McGraw, allegedly said, according to the lawsuit. “At the Ranch, Hannah will be in a safe environment, eat well, be treated well, and have multiple therapies.”
The lawsuit claims Hannah’s parents told a segment producer their daughter had struggled with suicidal thoughts and alleges they were warned not to bring up the issue again for liability purposes.
After the show taping, Hannah was taken directly from the soundstage in Los Angeles to the ranch in Utah. There, she was sexually assaulted twice by a male staff member, the lawsuit claims.
The first incident involved a male staffer who walked up behind her and “grabbed” her buttocks without warning about a week and a half after she arrived, leaving her “paralyzed with fear.”
The second incident involved the same male staffer “aggressively” slipping his hand under her buttocks and touching her vaginal area, the lawsuit states.
“He squeezed her vagina and buttocks,” the paperwork claims. “Hannah was terrified and wheeled around in order to stop the battery. The male staff member casually walked away, again seemingly untroubled by any fear that there would be consequences for his sexual assault.”
The lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages, says Hannah faced retaliation when she reported the male staffer’s “predatory behavior.” She says she was forced to sleep on a wooden plank with no pillow, denied access to a bathroom, and forced to pick up horse manure for hours, among other indignities.
Show spokesman Jerry Sharell said in a statement that no one at Dr. Phil had any role in what happened at the facility.
“After Hannah Archuleta’s appearance on Dr. Phil, in 2019, her parents chose to seek treatment at Turn-About Ranch. None of the Defendants in this case had anything to do with her program at that facility, as documents signed by the Archuleta’s reflect,” Sharell’s statement to Rolling Stone states.
“We understand that she subsequently sued Turn-About Ranch but that case was dismissed and recently refiled. This case will be vigorously contested,” he said.
“There are not and never have been financial ties to Turn-About Ranch,” he said.
Last February, Archuleta and Allred filed a separate lawsuit against Turn-About Ranch in Garfield County, Utah.
In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, Turn-About Ranch administrators said they “took immediate action” after Archuleta accused the staff member.
“Unfortunately, her father removed her from our facility before we could conduct a full inquiry,” they told the newspaper in February. “Both she and her father were unwilling to communicate with us from that time. We interviewed other students and staff members and were unable to corroborate her story. We fully cooperated with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, but without further contact with the accusing party, our options were limited.”