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Citizens Caught in the Cross-Fire

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EARLY morning, Oct. 2, 1992. Thirty lawmen cut the padlock on a gate leading down a dusty road to Trail's End Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu.

The platoon-sized task force of local, state, and federal drug-enforcement officers is led along the road by sheriff's deputies from Los Angeles County. They move quickly. Within minutes, seven lawmen surround a barn and garage. Six crouch behind their vehicles. Others move to the front door of the redwood-and-stone ranch house.

Inside, Donald Scott, a multimillionaire, and his wife, Frances Plante, are still asleep. They'd been up late, past 2 a.m. He'd been drinking, and taking valium, and is still intoxicated.

Deputy John Cater Jr. knocks on the door. ``Sheriff's Department!'' he shouts. ``We have a search warrant!''

Frances Plante is the first to stir. Outside, Mr. Scott's 22 dogs are barking. The house shakes as the lawmen pound on the door. She pulls on overalls, but in her hurry, puts them on backwards. She grabs a white blouse and heads toward the front door. Her husband sits on the edge of the bed in a T-shirt.

At that moment, deputies break open the door with a battering ram. Five officers, guns drawn, rush in. Deputy Gary Spencer, the first to enter, pulls Ms. Plante forcefully toward the doorway, or pushes her back into the living room. (Accounts differ.)

Scott, hearing the commotion, picks up a Colt .38 snubnose revolver and runs into the semi-darkened living room, holding the gun over his head. He's immediately confronted by Deputy Spencer, who has dropped to one knee, gun drawn, only 10 feet away. ``Donald, drop the gun!'' orders Spencer. ``Drop the gun! Drop the gun!''

Did Scott, still inebriated, misunderstand? Did he know Spencer was a lawman? Was he trying to comply? No one will ever know. He slowly lowered his gun, but as it came down, the deputy claims it suddenly pointed directly at him. Was Scott's finger on the trigger?

Deputy Spencer fires first. Deputy Cater, right behind him, fires second. Then Spencer again. Scott is killed instantly.

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