By Paul Ciotti
© 2000 WorldNetDaily.com
Recent revelations about rampant police perjury have made Los Angeles
juries so mistrustful of law enforcement that attorneys for Los Angeles
County are in some cases offering plaintiffs multi-million dollar
settlements, rather than risking the possibility of far larger damage
awards should the cases ever go to trial.
In one of the more infamous instances of alleged law enforcement
misconduct -- the killing of the reclusive Malibu millionaire and rugged
anti-government individualist Donald Scott in his ranch house by Los
Angeles sheriff's deputies in 1992 -- county and federal government
officials tentatively agreed last week to pay Scott's heirs and estate a
total of $5 million in return for their dropping a wrongful death lawsuit.
Furthermore, they made the settlement despite the deep conviction, says
deputy Los Angeles County Counsel Dennis Gonzales, that the deputy who
shot Scott was fully justified and -- even though the sheriff was never
able to prove it -- that the heavy-drinking Scott was growing thousands of
marijuana plants on his remote $2.5 million Malibu ranch.
Early on the morning of Oct. 2, 1992, 31 officers from the Los Angeles
Sheriff's Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, Border Patrol,
National Guard and Park Service came roaring down the narrow dirt road to
Scott's rustic 200-acre ranch. They planned to arrest Scott, the wealthy,
eccentric, hard-drinking heir to a Europe-based chemicals fortune, for
allegedly running a 4,000-plant marijuana plantation. When deputies broke
down the door to Scott's house, Scott's wife would later tell reporters,
she screamed, "Don't shoot me. Don't kill me." That brought
Scott staggering out of the bedroom, hung-over and bleary-eyed -- he'd
just had a cataract operation -- holding a .38 caliber Colt snub-nosed
revolver over his head. When he pointed it in the direction of the
deputies, they killed him.
Later, the lead agent in the case, sheriff's deputy Gary Spencer and
his partner John Cater posed for photographs arm-in-am outside Scott's
cabin, smiling and triumphant, says Larry Longo, a former Los Angeles
deputy district attorney who now represents Scott's daughter, Susan.
"It was as if they were white hunters who had just shot the
buffalo," he said.
Despite a subsequent search of Scott's ranch using helicopters, dogs,
searchers on foot, and a high-tech Jet Propulsion Laboratory device for
detecting trace amounts of sinsemilla, no marijuana --or any other illegal
drug -- was ever found.
Scott's widow, the former Frances Plante, along with four of Scott's
children from prior marriages, subsequently filed a $100 million wrongful
death suit against the county and federal government. For eight years the
case dragged on, requiring the services of 15 attorneys and some 30 volume
binders to hold all the court documents. Last week, attorneys for Los
Angeles County and the federal government agreed to settle with Scott's
heirs and estate, even though the sheriff's department still maintained
its deputies had done nothing wrong.
"I do not believe it was an illegal raid in any way, shape or
form," Captain Larry Waldie, head of the Sheriff's Department's
narcotics bureau, told the Los Angeles Times after the shooting. When
Scott came out of the bedroom, the deputies identified themselves and
shouted at him to put the gun down. As Scott began to lower his arm, one
deputy later said, he "kinda" pointed his gun -- which he
initially was holding by the cylinder, not the handle grip -- at deputy
Spencer who, in fear for his life, killed him.
Although attorneys for Los Angeles County believed Scott's shooting was
fully justified, they weren't eager to see the case go to trial. Recent
widespread revelations of illegal shootings, planted evidence and perjured
testimony at the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division were
making the public mistrust the police.
"I've tried four cases (since the Rampart revelations)," said
Dennis Gonzales, a deputy Los Angeles County counsel. And in each case, he
said, jurors have told him that the possibility that police officers were
lying was a factor in their vote.
"You have to be realistic as to public perceptions," he said.
Nick Gutsue, Scott's former attorney and currently special
administrator for his estate, put it more bluntly: "(Gonzales) saw he
had a loser and he took the easy way out."
Ironically enough, the county might have had a better chance of winning
a court battle if it had allowed the case to go to trial when Scott's
widow and four children first filed their lawsuit back in 1993. The county
blew it, says Gutsue. It adopted a "divide and conquer
strategy." It prolonged the lawsuit's resolution with a successful
motion to throw legendarily aggressive anti-police attorney Stephen Yagman
off the case. Then it filed a time-consuming motion to dismiss the estate
from the lawsuit.
In the process, says Gutsue, new revelations of police misconduct began
appearing so frequently that the public's attitude toward law enforcement
began to change. "It was one scandal after another," says Gutsue.
"(County attorneys) stalled so long that the (Rampart scandal) came
along and their stalling tactics backfired."
Although county officials still maintain that Scott was a major
marijuana grower who was just clever enough not to get caught, his friends
and widow maintain that his drug of choice was alcohol, not marijuana. As
a young man, Scott lived a privileged life, growing up in Switzerland and
attending prep schools in New York. Later he lived the life of a dashing
international jet setter who was married three times, once to a French
movie star, and who had gone through two bitter and messy divorces by the
time he moved to his Malibu ranch, called Trail's End, in 1966.
Although well-liked and generous to friends, Scott drank heavily, could
be cantankerous and deeply mistrusted the government, which he suspected
of having designs on this ranch, a remote and nearly inaccessible parcel
with high rocky bluffs on three sides and a 75-foot spring-fed waterfall
"You know what he used to say," his third wife, Frances
Plante, told writer Michael Fessier Jr. in a 1993 article for the Los
Angeles Times magazine, "He'd say, 'Frances, every day they pass a
new law and the day after that they pass 40 more.'"
To Los Angeles County officials, the fact that Don Scott got killed in
his own house during a futile raid to seize a non-existent 4,000-plant
marijuana farm is just one of the unfortunate facts of life in the
narcotics enforcement business. It doesn't mean that sheriff's deputies
did anything wrong.
"Sometimes people get warned and we don't find anything,"
Gary Spencer, the lead deputy on the raid and the one who shot Scott, told
an L.A. Times reporter in 1997, "so I don't consider it botched. I
wouldn't call it botched because that would say that it was a mistake to
have gone there in the first place, and I don't believe that."
Someone who did believe that was Ventura County District Attorney
Michael Bradbury. Although Scott's ranch was in Ventura County, none of
the 31 people participating in the massive early morning raid, which
included officers from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the DEA, the
National Park Service, the California National Guard and the Border Patrol
bothered to invite any Ventura County officers to come along. Furthermore,
once Scott was shot, Los Angeles County tried to claim jurisdiction over
the investigation of Scott's death, even though the shooting occured in
To Bradbury, it was easy to see why. L.A. County wanted jurisdiction.
In a 64-page report issued by Bradbury's office in March of 1993, Bradbury
concluded that the search warrant contained numerous misstatements,
evasions and omissions. The purpose of the raid, he wrote, was never to
find some evanescent marijuana plantation. It was to seize Scott's ranch
under asset forfeiture laws and then divide the proceeds with
participating agencies, such as the National Park Service, which had put
Scott's ranch on a list of property it would one day like to acquire, and
the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, which heavily relied on assets
seized in drug raids to supplement its otherwise inadequate budget.
For something written by a government agency, the Bradbury report was
surprisingly blunt. It dismissed Spencer's supposed reasons for believing
that the Scott ranch was a marijuana plantation and accused Spencer of
having lost his "moral compass" in his eagerness to seize
Scott's multi-million dollar ranch. As proof of its assertions, the report
pointed to a parcel map in possession of the raiding party that contained
the handwritten notation that an adjacent 80-acre property had recently
sold for $800,000. In addition, the day of the raid, participants were
told during the briefing that Scott's ranch could be seized if as few as
14 plants were found.
In order to verify that the marijuana really existed, at first Spencer
simply hiked to a site overlooking Scott's ranch. Discovering nothing, he
subsequently sent an Air National Guard jet over the area to take
photographs of the ranch. When this also failed to reveal anything, he
dispatched a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in a light plane to
make a low level flight.
The DEA agent, whose name was Charles Stowell, said he saw flashes of
green hidden in trees which he believed were 50 marijuana plants. At the
same time, Stowell was uncertain enough about his observations -- which he
had made with the naked eye from an altitude of 1,000 feet -- to warn
Spencer not to use them as the basis for a search warrant without further
In an effort to confirm the marijuana sighting -- Spencer by this time
had decided that Scott was growing marijuana in pots suspended under the
trees -- Spencer asked members of the Border Patrol's "C-Rat"
team to make a night-time foray into the ranch. Despite two separate
incursions, they failed to find anything except barking dogs. The
following day a Fish and Game warden and Coastal Commission worker went to
the ranch to investigate alleged stream pollution and do a "trout
survey" on the dry stream bed. They too failed to see any marijuana.
Two days after that, a sheriff's deputy and National Park ranger visited
the ranch again, this time ostensibly to buy a rottweiler puppy from
Scott. The Scotts were friendly and gave them a tour of the ranch. Once
again no one saw any marijuana.
This lack of confirmation notwithstanding, four days later Spencer
filed an affidavit for a search warrant saying that DEA Special Agent
Charles Stowell, "while conducting cannabis eradication and
suppression reconnaissance ... over the Santa Monica Mountains in a single
engine fixed wing aircraft ... noticed that marijuana was being cultivated
at the Trails End Ranch 35247 Mulholland Highway in Malibu. Specifically
Agent Stowell saw approximately 50 plants that he recognized to be
marijuana plants growing around some large trees that were in a grove near
a house on the property."
To attorneys with a lot of experience with warrants, Spencer's
affidavit didn't look like much. "On a scale of one to ten,"
says former district attorney Longo, "I would give it a one."
Despite the affidavit's deficiencies -- among other things, Spencer
didn't mention that none of the people participating in any of the
previous week's incursions had reported any marijuana -- Ventura Municipal
Court Judge Herbert Curtis III issued a search warrant which, in the words
of the Bradbury report, became Scott's "death warrant." After
Scott's death, a helicopter hovered over the area in which the marijuana
plants were believed to have been growing. There were no pots, no water
supply, no marijuana. There was only ivy and even that wasn't in the
location where the marijuana was supposed to be.
Larry Longo, a friend of Scott whose children used to play with Scott's
children, says it's absurd to think that Scott had marijuana plants
hanging from the trees.
"I went up there right after the shooting. The trees were 200- or
300-year-old oak trees. The leaves under them hadn't been raked in a
hundred years." If Scott had been growing marijuana under the trees,
the leaves would have been disturbed and the tree bark broken. "There
wasn't a single mark on the trees. There was no water supply."
Besides, says Longo, "Donald might have been a lot of things, but
he would never be so dumb as to cultivate marijuana on his property."
If for no other reason, he didn't need the money. Any time he needed cash,
all he had to do was call New York and they'd withdraw whatever was
necessary out of his trust fund. At the time of Scott's death, there was
$1.6 million in his primary trust account.
The Bradbury report caused a huge ruckus in Los Angeles County. Sherman
Block, the sheriff at the time, denounced it and issued a report of his
own which completely cleared everyone, and California Attorney General Dan
Lungren criticized Bradbury for "inappropriate and gratuitous
Cheered by his apparent exoneration by Sheriff Block and Attorney
General Lungren, sheriff's deputy Spencer subsequently sued Bradbury for
libel, slander and defamation. After a long and bitter fight, including
allegations that Bradbury suppressed an earlier report which concluded
that Spencer was innocent after all, a state appeals court declared that
Bradbury was within his 1st Amendment rights of free speech when he
criticized Spencer. The court also ordered Spencer to pay Bradbury's
$50,000 legal fees, a development that caused Spencer to declare
bankruptcy. According to press reports, the stress from all this caused
Spencer to develop a "twitch."
Spencer wasn't the only one affected by Scott's killing. Scott's wife,
Frances, was so strapped for cash, she subsequently told a judge, she
considering eating a dead coyote she found on the side of the road.
According to her attorney, Johnnie Cochran, as quoted in the Los Angeles
Times, she is currently living on the property while she holds off
government claims to seize it for unpaid taxes. In 1996, the massive
Malibu firestorm destroyed Scott's ranch house and the outlying buildings.
As a result, Frances Scott currently lives in a teepee erected over the
badminton court, albeit a teepee with expensive rugs and a color TV.
Scott's old friend and attorney Nick Gutsue recently said he had mixed
feelings about the settlement. While he was glad that Scott's widow and
children didn't have to go through the horror of reliving Scott's death in
a jury trial, at the same time was disappointed that he never got a chance
to clear Scott's name.
"I asked for an apology and exoneration of Scott," said
Gutsue. "I never got one. I was told it was against their
policy." That's one reason, said Gutsue, he always wanted a jury
trial. In a settlement, no one has to admit any guilt.
"Of course," said Gutsue, "$5 million is a pretty good