It Was the Perfect Drug Raid ... but the Wrong House

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DONALD CARLSON and Donald Scott had one thing in common. They were both innocent men, gunned down by police in search of drugs. But Mr. Carlson survived.

Carlson, a Navy veteran, was assistant vice-president of a computer company in suburban San Diego last year when federal and local police stormed into his house and shot him three times.

Police had the wrong house.

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Carlson got home that night at 10:30, drove into his well-lighted garage, deactivated his alarm system, and went to bed.

Police, led by agents from Customs and the Drug Enforcement Administration, were watching as Carlson got home. They had a tip that his house, which they were told was vacant, was being used to store immense quantities of cocaine in the garage.

R.J. Coughlan, who is Carlson's attorney, says Customs apparently believed the garage was being guarded by ``four armed Mexican men.'' John Kelley, the Customs special agent in charge for the San Diego sector, says police expected to encounter ``heavily armed individuals.''

Carlson finds this puzzling. He told congressional investigators: ``When the garage door opens, the light ... goes on and anybody observing the garage can easily see inside. The garage was mostly empty....''

Later, awakened at midnight by pounding on his front door, Carlson called out in a loud voice several times, asking who was there. ``I received no response,'' he says.

Frightened, and believing that ``robbers or burglars were attempting to break into my home,'' Carlson grabbed a revolver in his bedroom and fired two shots toward the front door.

Police returned fire, hitting him in one leg. Carlson says: ``I tossed my gun down the hallway.... I turned into my bedroom and fell to the floor.... After getting rid of the gun, I was shot two more times,'' once in the shoulder, once in the back.

Carlson survived, but spent 49 days in the hospital. His medical costs have reached $350,000. He's working again, but doctors say he suffered permanent internal damage.

The government's response? ``No apology to me whatsover,'' he says.

Agent Kelley says: ``It's not a matter of being cold-hearted.... There has to be a legal process. It's unfortunate that this circumstance occurred. My heart goes out to Mr. Carlson.... I am sorry that this has occurred to this individual.... To go any further would be difficult,'' since the case now is being litigated.

The government has taken quick action, however, against the paid informant who pointed the finger at Carlson's house, and at another equally innocent property a mile away. The informant was indicted on 25 counts of giving false information and perjury, Kelley says.

Carlson charges police with acting ``with total disregard for my rights,'' especially after they saw that his house was not vacant as they expected. He suggests that their underlying motive was to seize his house.

``The market value of my home was approximately $260,000,'' he says.

Carlson adds, ``That kind of financial incentive may well have played a real role in the conduct of federal agents in raiding my home and in ignoring every sign that day that they were in the wrong place.''

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