Concluding an internal inquiry into a drug raid that left a Malibu millionaire dead last fall, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block has cleared his deputies of wrongdoing and recommended public censure of Ventura County's top prosecutor for "willful distortions of fact" in his review of the case.
Block, in a report scheduled for release today, rejects as unfounded Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury's conclusion that the drug raid was not legally justified and was prompted in large part by authorities' desire to seize Donald P. Scott's $5-million ranch.
Bradbury's findings have been cited nationwide by critics arguing for reform of federal asset forfeiture laws because the 61-year-old Scott was killed but no drugs were ever found on his ranch.
Block now says, however, that a five-month internal investigation reinforces his department's belief that marijuana had been growing on the ranch just days before the Oct. 2 raid, and that Bradbury--not Block's department--is guilty of unethical conduct for misconstruing the facts of the case.
Block reports that several of Bradbury's key findings are flatly wrong, including conclusions that a sheriff's deputy lied to get the Scott search warrant and that a drug agent could not have seen marijuana plants from a plane flying 1,000 feet above the ranch.
"The Bradbury Report is so riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations that any thorough analysis raises disturbing questions regarding the investigation's integrity and intent," Block's report concludes. "Did the Ventura district attorney knowingly construct an investigation . . . in a manner that falsely attacked the integrity of veteran law enforcement officers? (This department) believes Mr. Bradbury did just that.
"There are too many crucial misquotations, too many erroneous facts, too many false attributions and too many untaped interviews to accept that his report is merely shoddy workmanship," the report states.
Block said in an interview that he believes Bradbury committed "willful distortions of fact trying to come to a preconceived goal." And the sheriff said he thinks Bradbury's motive was publicity. "I believe that he saw this as an opportunity for national exposure."
Block said he is forwarding his 24-page summary report and hundreds of pages of supporting documents to state Atty. Gen. Daniel E. Lungren, asking for public censure of Bradbury "to discourage similar breaches of public trust."
A spokeswoman for Lungren said the attorney general does conduct "abuse of discretion" reviews of alleged misconduct of law enforcement officials, upon request.
Bradbury, who aides said is bedridden with pneumonia, issued a statement saying he stands by the conclusions in his March 30 report and will have no further comment for now.
"It is unfortunate that the Los Angeles County sheriff has decided to personally attack this office . . .," Bradbury's statement said. "We stand by our report and are confident its findings and conclusions will withstand the test of future scrutiny."
Bradbury investigated the fatal shooting because Scott's ranch, which has a Los Angeles County address, is just across the Ventura County line.
Scott, the reclusive heir to a chemicals fortune, was killed Oct. 2 during an early morning raid led by the Sheriff's Department. Also participating were agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, the Los Angeles Police Department, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the California National Guard.
Several agencies were involved because investigators originally were told by an informant that 3,000 to 4,000 marijuana plants were growing on Scott's 200-acre ranch, officials have said. Later information indicated a crop of about 50 plants, according to the Sheriff's Department.
Scott was killed after he emerged sleepy and drunk from his bedroom and allegedly pointed a pistol at Deputy Gary Spencer, who shot him twice.
Bradbury found the shooting justified self-defense, but concluded that Spencer--the case's lead investigator--should not have been on the ranch in the first place because errors in the deputy's search warrant affidavit invalidated the search.
"This search warrant became Donald Scott's death warrant. This guy should not be dead," Bradbury said. "Clearly one of the primary purposes was a land grab by the (Los Angeles County) Sheriff's Department."
Under federal forfeiture law, police agencies may seize property when a judge rules that the land was used to grow or manufacture drugs or that the property was purchased with the proceeds of drug sales.
In issuing his report, Bradbury called on Block to re-examine Spencer's conduct and review Sheriff's Department policies for obtaining search warrants.
Block says the re-examination turned up little evidence to support Bradbury's findings.