Libel Suit by L.A. Deputy Criticized in Fatal Donald Scott Drug Raid Denied by California Appeals Court
On October 1, the Second District Court of Appeal in California denied a libel suit filed by Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Gary Spencer, who accused Ventura County District Attorney Michael D. Bradbury of defaming Spencer in a highly critical report of a 1992 drug raid (Mack Reed, "Appeals Panel Denies Libel Suit Against D.A.," Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1996, p. B4).
The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the First Amendment allowed Bradbury to criticize Spencer for organizing a raid in which Spencer killed Ventura County rancher Donald Scott, 61. In the 3-0 ruling, Justice Kenneth Yegan said "the exchange of ideas would be unduly curtailed if a governmental entity and its representatives could not freely express themselves on matters of public interest." The court said Bradbury had not knowingly or recklessly made false statements. The court also said the defendants were entitled to collect attorneys' fees from Spencer. David Lawrence, Spencer's attorney, said his client was considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Bradbury's critical report relates to an October 2, 1992 incident in which thirty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement agents, acting on a tip that Scott was growing several thousand marijuana plants, conducted an early morning raid of Scott's 200-acre Trails End Ranch, actually located in Ventura County. During the raid, Spencer forcibly entered the house and fatally wounded Scott. According to deputies, Scott emerged from his bedroom drunk, and pointed a gun at them, forcing them to fire. No drugs were found in the search. ("Killing of Man in Raid Raises Questions on Tactics," NewsBriefs, December 1992, p. 15)
Bradbury investigated the case and issued a 64-page report in March 1993 that was highly publicized that said the shooting was justifiable defense, but also said Spencer "was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to search and forfeit the ranch." The report said that Spencer "lost his moral compass" when he obtained a search warrant that "was not supported by probable cause," a warrant that "became Donald Scott's death warrant."
Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block's office later issued a report that exonerated Spencer of wrongdoing. California Attorney General Dan Lungren cleared the deputies of wrongdoing and called Bradbury's comments "inappropriate and gratuitous." In 1994, Spencer sued Bradbury and several of his aides, claiming that Bradbury's report had damaged Spencer's reputation.