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Deputy who arrested Mel Gibson in 2006 sues Sheriff's Department

James Mee alleges he was the target of department retaliation because he resisted superiors' requests to remove mention of the actor's anti-Semitic slurs from his initial arrest report.

September 08, 2010|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

The deputy who arrested Mel Gibson in 2006 for drunk driving sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, alleging that it retaliated against him because he resisted requests from superiors to remove the actor's anti-Semitic slurs from an initial arrest report.

Deputy James Mee said that in the four years since the incident, he has been passed over for promotions and had his job performance unfairly scrutinized. Because the deputy is Jewish, his attorneys said, he was unfairly suspected of leaking details of Gibson's tirade to the media.

"You go to work and you don't know what to expect," Mee said. "I'm constantly in fear."

A department spokesman denied the allegations of retaliation and ethnic discrimination.

Mee, who is still with the department, said that as a deputy assigned to DUI duty in Malibu, he approached the 2006 arrest as routine. He included Gibson's slurs, he said, to illustrate how drunk the actor was.

"The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," Mee quoted Gibson as saying.

Mee, 55, said he was planning to write the arrest report on another day because it was already late in his shift but was told by a supervisor that department higher-ups were waiting. Gibson, Mee's attorneys said, was of special interest to sheriff's officials because he was a friend of Sheriff Lee Baca's, and had been a spokesman in a public service announcement for a department-administered nonprofit.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Baca had "over the years been friendly" with Gibson, but denied that the sheriff intervened on the actor's behalf.

When Mee documented Gibson's rant, a supervisor told him that the material was "not acceptable" because the anti-Semitic comments were irrelevant to the DUI, Mee said.

Mee said he was asked to remove Gibson's comments from the initial report, and include them in a supplementary report that would not have been immediately available to the public.

"That makes it look like an afterthought," he said. "In front of a jury I would look like an idiot."

He said he eventually followed a lieutenant's order to write separate reports. A memo from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office later confirmed that Mee was instructed to write a supplemental report to be placed in a locked safe along with a recording of Gibson's booking and a bottle of tequila found with Gibson.

The Sheriff's Department downplayed the incident until Mee's initial report was made public by TMZ.com. Mee was suspected of leaking details to the celebrity news site. Despite records showing calls between his home and TMZ founder Harvey Levin, no charges were filed against the deputy.

On Tuesday, Mee said Levin called him multiple times. Mee said that he recognized Levin from the TV show "The People's Court," but that he provided no details to Levin. Mee's attorneys said that their client was unfairly targeted and that several other deputies had access to the report but were not investigated.

"You know why he was suspected? Because he's Jewish," attorney Yael Trock said.

Since arresting Gibson, Mee alleged that he had been the target of internal investigations based on trumped-up allegations, causing stress and loss of potential earnings. His complaint details numerous instances in which he says he was overlooked for promotions and new positions despite being qualified. In one instance, Mee said, he was denied a position at the West Hollywood patrol station after interviewers told him they worried that he would be too harsh on high-profile individuals he stopped for violations.

Whitmore said he could not discuss details of the case because of the pending lawsuit.

"We look forward to telling the whole story and that's not being told now," Whitmore said.

The Sheriff's Department was criticized for its handling of the incident. The Office of Independent Review, a department watchdog, found that Gibson was given special treatment, including being allowed to leave the station without giving a required palm print and without signing a statement agreeing to appear in court. He was also driven to the tow yard by a sheriff's sergeant.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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