Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
On the morning of October 2, 1992, a group of 30 law enforcement officers served a marijuana search warrant to Donald Scott at his Malibu, California ranch. While serving the warrant to Scott and his wife, Frances Plante, deputies shot Scott three times, killing him instantly. No marijuana was found on the property.
In September 1992, a confidential informant told Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Gary Spencer that between 3,000 and 4,000 marijuana plants were being grown on Scott's 200-acre ranch, which was nearly surrounded by state and federal parkland. However, subsequent visits by officials from park rangers, the fish and game service, and law enforcement agents conducting late-night ground surveillance revealed no marijuana on the property. Aerial surveillance by the California Air National Guard yielded inconclusive results.
Finally, only after flying over the property several times, a DEA agent spotted what he thought may have been, at most, 50 marijuana plants. The DEA agent — who did not take pictures or use binoculars during his surveillance — was unwilling to let his observations form the basis of a search warrant without corroboration by another witness. Deputy Spencer told the DEA agent that another confidential informant corroborated his findings, and the agent signed an affadavit that was later used to obtain a search warrant.
The confidential informant later denied having any such conversation with Spencer. In addition, the request for a search warrant made no mention of the officials who saw no marijuana when visiting the property.
On October 2, a group of 30 officers — including members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department canine unit, National Guard, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — gathered at the edge of Scott's ranch and prepared to serve the search warrant. Two of the Sheriff's Department officers were members of the asset forfeiture unit, and researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena were there as well, possibly interested in the use of Scott's ranch in connection with missile testing over the Pacific Ocean.
After pounding on the door and calling out, "Sheriff's department. We have a search warrant. Open the door," Spencer entered Scott's house. Once inside, officers seized Plante. At this point, the story has conflicting versions. Officers swear that Plante was taken outside before the fatal shooting, but Plante says she was in the room when Scott was killed.
Regardless, at some point Scott faced Spencer and another deputy, holding a gun in front of him and pointed upward. The deputies told Scott several times to put his gun down; as he was lowering it, Spencer and the other deputy shot Scott a total of three times. It is unclear if Scott was lowering his weapon to aim at the deputies or if he was going to put it on the ground.
After the fatal shooting, Ventura County District Attorney Michael Bradbury investigated the incident. (Scott's ranch was technically in Ventura County.) Bradbury found that Spencer should never have been granted a search warrant because there was no probable cause to search Scott's property. Controversially, Bradbury also found that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department may have been motivated to raid the multi-million-dollar property in order to seize it, as evidenced by the presence of asset forfeiture officers and federal defense researchers at the time of the raid.
Ironically, Frances Plante told Bradbury that Scott was against all drugs and that she had never seen him use marijuana. In January 2000, Plante won a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government and Los Angeles County.