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Deputy in Mel Gibson rant case settles suit against L.A. County

Deputy James Mee had alleged that his supervisors retaliated against him for resisting requests to remove the actor's anti-Semitic slurs from an initial arrest report.

February 15, 2012|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

The deputy who arrested Mel Gibson in 2006 for drunk driving has tentatively settled his lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for $50,000, attorneys said.

Deputy James Mee alleged that his supervisors retaliated against him because he resisted requests to remove the actor's anti-Semitic slurs from an initial arrest report.

"We did not settle for the purpose of making money," said Etan Z. Lorant, one of Mee's attorneys. "It was a task of the heart."

When the case was initially filed, it appeared to have the potential for high drama if it ever made it to trial, with the likes of Gibson and Sheriff Lee Baca taking the witness stand to address accusations of drunken rants, covered-up slurs and special favors.

But last month, a judge threw out the deputy's retaliation complaint, Lorant said, so only the allegations of workplace harassment and anti-Semitic discrimination remained.

Mee, who is still with the Sheriff's Department, said he included Gibson's slurs in his report after the 2006 arrest to illustrate how drunk the actor was.

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

Back at the station, Mee said, he was told by a supervisor that department higher-ups were waiting for his report. Gibson, Mee's attorneys alleged, was of special interest to sheriff's officials because he was a friend of Baca and had been a spokesman in a public service announcement for a department-administered nonprofit.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore told The Times that Baca had "over the years been friendly" with Gibson but denied that the sheriff intervened on the actor's behalf. On Tuesday, Whitmore said, "The sheriff has no qualms with the settlement. We obviously accept no responsibility or liability … it was a business decision. The county counsel thought it was prudent, and the sheriff agreed."

When Mee documented Gibson's rant, he 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. A prosecutor's memo 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 him.

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.

The Sheriff's Department was criticized for its handling of the incident. The department's watchdog found that Gibson was given special treatment, including being given a ride to a tow yard by a sheriff's sergeant.

Tuesday's settlement agreement needs to be approved by the county Board of Supervisors before it becomes final.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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