Federal authorities made a rare public apology Wednesday to an innocent man who was shot and seriously wounded when heavily armed agents stormed his house in a midnight drug raid 18 months ago.
U.S. Attorney Alan D. Bersin said the government admits liability and intends to pay monetary damages to Donald Carlson, who has filed a $20-million lawsuit against agents of the U.S. Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal and local forces.
"We were deceived by our informant and must accept responsibility for that fact," Bersin said.
Carlson, a 41-year-old computer company executive with no criminal record, awoke around midnight on Aug. 26, 1992, to the sound of violent pounding on his front door, according to his suit.
After trying to telephone police and yelling at the intruders to identify themselves, without response, he grabbed a pistol and fired two shots. The agents knocked down the door with a battering ram, hurled an explosive device and shot him three times _ twice after he had dropped the gun and lay helpless on his bedroom floor, according to the suit.
Carlson suffered serious wounds, including lasting damage to his respiratory system, arm and shoulder, his lawyer said. An agent received a superficial leg wound.
No drugs were found. Carlson was the victim of a bogus tip from an informant, who told wild tales about heavily armed South American traffickers using Carlson's home in suburban Poway as a cocaine warehouse, authorities say. The informant was charged in January with lying to agents.
"The tragedy for everyone involved is that although everyone acted in good faith, Mr. Carlson was still severely injured," Bersin said. "Law enforcement investigations are designed to be conducted in as fail-safe a manner as possible. However, in the case of the Carlson shooting, the system did fail."
Citing a judge's order, authorities did not disclose the results of three internal investigations into the case involving Operation Alliance, a multiagency narcotics unit based at the U.S.-Mexico border. The incident forced federal drug fighters here to toughen rules on using confidential informants.
The lawsuit paints a nightmarish picture, accusing three Customs agents, a federal prosecutor and other officials of acting on uncorroborated information, ignoring warnings about the informant's credibility and conspiring to cover-up misconduct. The defendants allegedly "misused the search warrant process . . . to bolster their own reputations and careers" and "advance the war on drugs," according to the suit.
Federal officials say they determined that the informant, Ronnie Edmonds, had falsely implicated several other people, including a San Diego County law enforcement officer, in a cocaine ring that did not exist.
It was the first time the government has accepted liability in such a case in the San Diego area and one of few similar cases nationwide, officials said.
"You don't typically admit liability when people are shot and the damage is in very large amounts," an official said. "It is extremely rare."