Citizens Caught in the Cross-Fire
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On Sept. 23, a special agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Charles Stowell, agreed to fly over the ranch to look for marijuana plants. Agent Stowell reported seeing what appeared to be 50 marijuana plants, not 3,000. He suggested that a ground team confirm his findings.Skip to next paragraph
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On Sept. 24 and 25, a US Border Patrol ``C-RAT'' tactical squad entered Scott's property, but failed to find marijuana. On the first entry, at night, they were turned back by the dangerous terrain. The second attempt was foiled by Scott's dogs.
ON Sept. 27, Sgt. Bill Marsh of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department visited the Scott ranch on the pretext of buying a puppy. Scott gave him a tour of the ranch and was friendly. Sergeant Marsh told Spencer that a SWAT team would not be needed to serve a search warrant.
On Oct. 1, Ventura County Municipal Court Judge Herbert Curtis III gave Spencer a search warrant for the ranch. In his statement seeking the warrant, Spencer said: ``The plants appear to be suspended from the large trees. I recognized this method as one occasionally used to hide cultivated marijuana from casual aerial detection or infrared photographic detection.''
Federal law permits seizing property, including land and buildings, used in the cultivation of marijuana. Law enforcement agencies generally split the proceeds.
For that reason, two deputies from the L.A. sheriff's asset-
forfeiture unit were on the raid. A Park Service ranger present on that day says one deputy vowed that if 14 or more plants were found, the ranch would be confiscated. An officer from the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement confirms that statement.
The Ventura district attorney was stinging in his criticism of the police action against Scott. Among his conclusions:
* Border Patrol agents on Sept. 24 and 25 committed civil trespass and ``acted beyond their legal authority in entering the property.''
* ``The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to seize and forfeit the ranch for the government.''
* It is ``probable'' that L.A. County sheriff's deputies failed to notify the Ventura sheriff ``because Los Angeles County did not want to split the forfeiture proceeds....''
* The affidavit upon which the search warrant was based contains ``misstatements'' and serious omissions. These flaws ``make the warrant invalid.''
The DA's report triggered a five-month investigation that was only recently completed by the L.A. sheriff's Internal Affairs Bureau. The sheriff's report denounces the DA study as ``distorted,'' ``inflammatory,'' and ``inconsistent.'' It charges the DA with maligning Deputy Spencer and law enforcement in general.
Sheriff's investigators were particularly incensed by the DA's accusation that deputies snubbed the Ventura sheriff to avoid sharing forfeited assets. ``That suggestion is false - in fact, absurd,'' the sheriff's report concludes.
As for the deputies' motives: ``It is true that deputies discussed forfeiture prior to serving the warrant,'' the sheriff's report says. ``This issue is a consideration in all narcotics investigations involving large quantities of money or property.''
His report continues: ``It is not true that the interest in forfeiture dominated or even rivaled the criminal concerns in this investigation.''
At another point, the sheriff's report also casts doubts on whether Scott's ranch really was free of marijuana, even though none could be found after an exhaustive search. It states:
``Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, a number of factors outlined suggest that marijuana may well have been present prior to the execution of the search warrant.''
The sheriff's report, therefore, seems designed to keep the drug issue alive, even though the DA notes that officers were able to find no ``stems, seeds, ropes, or any other remnants of marijuana cultivation.'' Further, the DA says later investigation on the ground found that the so-called ``marijuana'' was apparently only ivy.
One fact remains beyond reasonable dispute, however. Donald Scott was shot dead by officials of the government for a ``crime'' that all available evidence indicates never happened.