Ventura D.A. Says Fatal Raid Was Unjustified
A drug raid that left a reclusive Malibu millionaire fatally shot last fall was not legally justified and was prompted in part by authorities’ desire to seize the man’s $5-million ranch, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury has concluded.
Sources familiar with Bradbury’s inquiry into the death of Donald P. Scott said the prosecutor will report today that a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy shot the gun-wielding rancher in self-defense, but that the deputy should not have been on the ranch in the first place.
Scott, 61, the heir to a Europe-based chemicals fortune, was killed Oct. 2 during an early morning raid on his isolated 200-acre ranch across the Ventura County line from Malibu.
No drugs were found. The raid was carried out by a task force led by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and included agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles Police Department, the National Park Service and the California National Guard.
Sources said Bradbury’s report finds no legal justification for the Scott search warrant, concluding that it is highly unlikely that a federal drug agent who said he spotted marijuana from 1,000 feet above Scott’s ranch could have seen the plants without binoculars as he claimed.
The prosecutor also will report today that evidence confirming the marijuana sighting may have been fabricated by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigator to get a search warrant, in hopes of finding other drugs at Scott’s ranch and perhaps seizing his property under federal forfeiture laws, sources said.
Bradbury refused comment Monday on the contents of his report, saying only that the Scott case “is an example of the war on drugs gone awry.”
Capt. Larry Waldie, head of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s narcotics bureau, could not be reached late Monday.
But responding to similar accusations in a lawsuit filed recently by Scott’s heirs, Waldie said that deputies acted in good faith, did not raid the ranch to seize it and shot Scott only in self-defense.
“I do not believe it was an illegal raid in any way, shape or form,” he said.
Particularly offensive, Waldie said, have been persistent allegations that the Sheriff’s Department organized the raid to seize the millionaire’s ranch.
“That’s absolutely not true,” Waldie said. "(Forfeiture) was never brought up to me.”
Waldie said narcotics investigators had good reason to suspect that marijuana was being grown on Scott’s ranch.
Investigators were interested not only because of the aerial sighting of marijuana but also because of the rancher’s relationship with Frances Plante Scott, a 38-year-old Texas native whom he married last July.
“I can say there is some historical documentation of Frances Plante’s invovlement in drugs,” Waldie said, when asked about her 1991 federal conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana.
In his report, Bradbury also notes that Scott’s widow has been investigated in recent years by the DEA on suspicion of her possible role in heroin smuggling, sources said. But she has never been convicted of such a crime, they said.
Advance copies of Bradbury’s report have been sent to several local, state and federal agencies, including grand juries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the sheriff’s departments in both counties and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Those agencies have been asked to review the report and supporting documents to see if corrective action is warranted. The full report is scheduled for release to the public this morning.
According to sources, Bradbury concludes that information in law enforcement affidavits supporting the Scott search was false or misleading and that evidence arguing against a raid was withheld from the Ventura County prosecutor who reviewed the warrant request and the judge who granted it.
For example, when issuing the warrant, Ventura Municipal Court Judge Herbert Curtis III was not told that a federal reconnaissance team had found nothing when twice searching parts of Scott’s property for marijuana a week before the fatal shooting.
Bradbury also will report that the police informant who allegedly told Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Investigator Gary R. Spencer about the size of Scott’s marijuana crop--corroborating the DEA aerial sighting--says he did not provide that information, sources said.
Although sources said Spencer cooperated with the follow-up investigation, there was no way to determine whether the informant or the deputy was telling the truth, the district attorney concluded.
Sources said Bradbury has decided not to file perjury charges against Spencer because it cannot be proved that the officer knew some of his statements in a search warrant affidavit were inaccurate.
Nor are homicide charges justified, because a sleepy and drunken Scott pointed a loaded handgun at Spencer before the deputy shot him, Bradbury concluded after a preliminary investigation in November.
The Scott case has drawn national attention not only because of Scott’s wealth and eccentricities--he was a heavy-drinking, anti-government recluse once married to a French movie star who practiced voodoo--but because of early assertions by friends that authorities raided the ranch in order to seize it under federal forfeiture laws.
Under those laws, police agencies and prosecutors may seize real estate when a judge rules that the property was used to grow marijuana, or that the property was purchased with the proceeds of drug sales. The government does not have to charge the owner with a crime to take the property.