Sheriff's office debated Gibson's arrest report
Officials locked away deputy's account of the actor's alleged threats and anti-Semitic rants.
Mel Gibson's booking mug after he was taken into custody in Malibu. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department / July 30, 2006)
The officials ultimately decided to place a portion of Deputy James Mee's report under lock and key in an effort to prevent immediate public disclosure, the sources said. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case.
"They were like chickens running around with their heads cut off," said one source, who was at the station and witnessed the discussion in the hours after Gibson was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.
As these details emerged, the actor's spokesman said Monday that Gibson was in an "ongoing program of recovery." And ABC-TV said it would not proceed with a proposed Holocaust miniseries with the Academy Award-winning director's production company.
The Sheriff's Department may face repercussions as well. Two members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Monday questioned whether Gibson was given special treatment.
The debate following Gibson's early-morning arrest Friday in Malibu involved officials at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station in Agoura as well as those from sheriff's headquarters, according to the sources. Some staff members at Malibu/Lost Hills wanted to support Mee, the sources said, and urged that the report be treated the same as any other.
But some senior managers, both at the station and at headquarters, expressed concern about Gibson's comments becoming public.
"There was some pressure being put from sheriff's headquarters" to downplay Gibson's behavior, one source said.
As a result, the sources said, officials locked up the deputy's narrative describing Gibson's outbursts, leaving only the arrest's basic facts in a report readily available to station personnel. They planned to provide the full arrest report -- including the narrative -- to prosecutors, the sources said. But the document would have become public only if prosecutors introduced them in court.
The pages that were set aside included the deputy's account of Gibson trying to escape arrest and then allegedly threatening to "get even" with him. In the pages, the deputy, who is Jewish, reported that Gibson made a statement blaming Jews for "all the wars in the world" and then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"
Sheriff Lee Baca said Monday that he had not intervened in the investigation in any way and that the final decision on what to do with the deputy's narrative was made by the captain of the Malibu/Lost Hills station, Tom Martin.
"The people in the system are doing their job," Baca said. "No one in their right mind at the local station is going to ask me what to do about evidence. If we get to that level, we are in serious trouble."
Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said officials at headquarters were briefed about Gibson's arrest but never issued orders to the Malibu/Lost Hills station about how to proceed with the investigation.
But the details of the arrest and the fact that they became public only after the report had been leaked to the celebrity website TMZ.com have raised concerns about whether Gibson, one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors, had been given preferential treatment.
Los Angeles County supervisors Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and Zev Yaroslavsky questioned whether the incident had been properly handled.
"Knowing that this was a celebrity, they should have been doubly careful about how the report was ultimately prepared," Burke said. "It gives the impression that there may be two different ways they treat people based on who they are."
Yaroslavsky called for "a hard, independent look at what happened in this incident and how the Sheriff's Department handles all such cases."
One issue likely to draw scrutiny was a statement made Friday by Whitmore that Gibson had been arrested "without incident."
Whitmore said Monday that he may have created the wrong impression. He said he described the arrest that way because it was made "without a significant use of force," as deputies did not surround Gibson with guns drawn and did not tackle him. But he acknowledged that Gibson walked away from the arresting deputy at one point and had to be brought back to the patrol car.