The state attorney general has disputed the conclusion of Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury that Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies led a drug raid that left a reclusive millionaire dead so authorities could seize the man's $5-million ranch.
Ending a two-month review of investigative reports into the 1992 death of Donald P. Scott, state Atty. Gen. Daniel E. Lungren essentially cleared deputies of wrongdoing while chastising Bradbury for "inappropriate and gratuitous" comments about the case.
"I do not agree with several of the key findings and conclusions reached by Dist. Atty. Bradbury," Lungren said in a Nov. 8 letter to Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block and released to Bradbury on Friday.
Lungren specifically criticized Bradbury for stating that a sheriff's warrant to search Scott's secluded Santa Monica Mountains ranch became Scott's "death warrant."
While Scott's death was tragic, "it is equally clear that his death was not precipitated by (deputies') unjustified actions," Lungren wrote. "Thus, to color what is claimed to be an objective investigative report with such unsupported and provocative language is in my opinion both gratuitous and inappropriate."
Yet Lungren rejected Block's request for a formal investigation of Bradbury's conduct, saying the probe would serve no constructive purpose.
Neither Bradbury nor others in his office would comment Monday.
But in a terse written statement, the district attorney's office said it remained confident that Bradbury's report will "withstand the test of future scrutiny."
"With all due respect to the attorney general, this office continues to stand by the results of its investigation," the statement said.
Block, who has blasted Bradbury for "willful distortions of fact" in the Scott case, said Monday that he sees Lungren's letter as a vindication of his deputies but is disappointed that the attorney general declined to launch a formal investigation into Bradbury's actions.
"It's a clear vindication of our entire investigation," Block said. "The only thing that disappoints me is that I wish he would have . . . (investigated) the district attorney's office to see if there were any improprieties."
In September, Block requested that Lungren review both Bradbury's report and Block's internal investigation and publicly censure the district attorney if Lungren agreed that Bradbury had abused his powers to grab national publicity.
Lungren said in an interview Monday that it is not his job to censure district attorneys and responded strongly to Bradbury's conclusions only because they had received so much attention and were wrong. He said he found no evidence of misconduct by deputies.
The Scott case "is not a winner for anyone involved," the attorney general said. "You've got two conscientious public servants who've done a good job in the past. It's very unfortunate that any aspersions were cast in the first place."
Scott, 61, the heir to a Europe-based chemical fortune, was killed Oct. 2, 1992, during an early morning raid on his isolated 200-acre ranch across the Ventura County line from Malibu.
Bradbury concluded in March that Sheriff's Deputy Gary Spencer shot the gun-wielding rancher in self-defense, but that that the deputy should not have been on the property in the first place.
Bradbury found that the raid was not legally justified because Spencer had lied to get the Scott search warrant and because a drug agent could not have seen marijuana plants though a canopy of trees without binoculars from 1,000 feet, as claimed.
Bradbury's findings were cited nationwide by critics arguing for reform of federal asset forfeiture laws, because Scott was killed but no drugs were ever found on his ranch.
Block said two months ago, however, that his internal probe reinforced his department's belief that marijuana had been growing on the ranch just days before the raid and that Bradbury--not Block's department--is guilty of unethical conduct for misconstruing the facts of the case.
Block reported that several of Bradbury's key findings were flatly wrong, including his allegation that Spencer lied in a search warrant affidavit and his insistence that the unaided sighting of marijuana was impossible. In fact, most state and federal drug agents are trained to spot marijuana plants from 1,000 to 2,000 feet without binoculars, Block said.
Lungren, in his letter to Block, strongly challenges Bradbury's conclusion that the multi-agency task force that raided Scott's ranch was motivated partly by the prospect of confiscating valuable real estate.
Such a conclusion "is simply not established by the evidence," Lungren stated. It is common for drug agents to consider the possibility of asset forfeiture, he said, and it is clear that agents in the Scott case considered possible seizure of Scott's ranch.
But the attorney general said that Bradbury took a leap of logic when concluding that the agents not only considered, but were motivated, by the possibility of seizing the ranch.
"From all of the witness interviews it is patent that not one of the involved officers indicated that the possibility of forfeiture was a 'motivating' factor," Lungren wrote. "Rather the evidence established only that forfeiture would be considered depending upon what was ultimately discovered . . . ."
To seize property, federal law requires that at least 100 marijuana plants be found on it, Lungren said. State asset forfeiture law requires that the sale of cannabis be proven before property can be seized, he said.
"That just wasn't here at all," Lungren said.
Lungren said he was "equally concerned" about Bradbury's statement that the sheriff's "search warrant became Donald Scott's death warrant."
Lungren said the millionaire's death was not the deputies' fault, and noted without explanation that he disagreed with other aspects of Bradbury's investigation and report.
In declining to look further into Bradbury's conduct, Lungren added:
"While I regret that a dispute of this nature has arisen between two public servants, the fact that it does exist is not a sufficient basis for investigating the motives or the investigative techniques of the parties involved."