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Heirs of Rancher Killed in Drug Raid File Civil Rights Suit

March 09, 1993|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Survivors of a reclusive Malibu millionaire shot dead in a drug raid last fall filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday, alleging that drug agents "murdered" Donald P. Scott after faking a marijuana sighting so they could seize his 200-acre ranch.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department used false information to secure a search warrant, then descended on Scott's isolated Ventura County ranch in a raid that ended when Scott was shot Oct. 2 after he emerged from his bedroom, according to the suit.

"Scott, who was legally armed, . . . was ordered by defendants to lower the gun, and, when he complied, they shot and murdered him," said the lawsuit filed by lawyers Stephen and Marion R. Yagman in U. S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The suit contends that a multi-agency drug task force raided Scott's ranch--which the Yagmans said is worth tens of millions of dollars--so that it could be seized under federal forfeiture laws.

"This adventurism by these law enforcement officials was callous, reckless and un-American," the lawsuit said.

Capt. Larry Waldie, head of the sheriff's narcotics bureau, said 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," Waldie said. "And I think it is slanderous for (the Yagmans) to make an allegation of murder against a deputy sheriff."

The deputy who shot Scott, Detective Gary Spencer, was cleared of wrongdoing after an internal investigation and returned to duty. Spencer was named in Monday's filing.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Scott's estate, alleges that officers violated the rancher's constitutional rights by conducting an unreasonable search of his property, using excessive force against him and depriving him of his right to life, liberty and property.

Scott, 61, the heir to a Europe-based chemicals fortune, was killed about 8:40 a.m. on Oct. 2, when Spencer shot him twice after breaking into the main house at Trail's End Ranch.

The raid was carried out by a 27-person task force led by the Sheriff's Department and including agents from the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Los Angeles Police Department, National Park Service rangers and the California National Guard.

No drugs were found on the property.

The lawsuit names as defendants numerous Los Angeles city and county officials, including representatives from the sheriff's and police departments.

The task force operation was mounted after aerial surveillance of Scott's property by the DEA, which contended in court papers that the ranch was the site of illegal marijuana plant cultivation.

In January, a Ventura County coroner's investigation was inconclusive on whether Scott was pointing his handgun at deputies when he was shot.

Scott was holding a .38-caliber revolver in his right hand over his head, according to a Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman and Scott's widow, Frances Plante Scott. When deputies ordered him to put the gun down, he was fatally shot as he lowered his arm.

A toxicological analysis showed that Scott had large amounts of alcohol and diazepam, the generic name for the tranquilizer Valium, in his system.

Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury has tentatively concluded that the shooting was justified because Scott threatened deputies with a loaded handgun.

Despite his preliminary finding, Bradbury has conducted a broader inquiry into the shooting and the circumstances surrounding the drug raid.

The district attorney, who expects to issue his final report this month, said he continued his investigation because of concerns about the way the raid was conducted.

Ventura County law enforcement officials have been guarded in their comments about the case. But some said they are angry about what they think was a heavy-handed execution of the raid, and because the Ventura County sheriff was not notified beforehand, even though the raid took place in Ventura County.

Monday's suit is expected to be the first of two on behalf of Scott's survivors.

Estate executor Nicholas Gutsue said the current suit was filed on behalf of Scott's three minor children, who were named in his will as heirs, and Scott's widow, who receives one-third of his estate under state law.

Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. has said he also plans to file a wrongful death suit for Frances Scott by the end of the month.

Gutsue said he hired the Yagmans because Cochran declined to represent both the estate and Frances Scott. Cochran felt that past disagreements between him and Gutsue created a conflict of interest, Gutsue said.

Cochran recently tried to remove Gutsue as executor of Scott's estate. Cochran argued that Gutsue had characterized Scott as temperamental in statements to reporters and was not acting in his widow's best interests.

In addition to Scott's ranch, which he valued at a minimum of $5 million, Gutsue said Scott had stock accounts in New York and Australia and bank accounts and trust funds in New York and Switzerland. The value of those assets has not been determined, he said.

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