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Deputy seeking reinstatement says accounts of crash are exaggerated

Deputy seeking reinstatement says accounts of crash are exaggerated
Alleging retaliation for Mel Gibson arrest, James Mee says deputies are exaggerating crash that led to firing

The Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who accused the department of retaliating against him after he arrested Mel Gibson in 2006 on suspicion of drunk driving testified Tuesday that other deputies gave exaggerated accounts of a 2011 traffic incident that led to his firing.

At a hearing in which he is seeking reinstatement to his old job, James Mee said he disagreed with multiple deputies and supervisors who testified that he failed to give adequate warnings to his colleagues when he called for support while responding to the fiery crash at a Santa Clarita gas station.

An attorney for the Sheriff's Department questioned Mee's decision not to declare over his radio that the crash site was an emergency or to broadcast that there were fires at the gas station, where a suspected drunk driver whom Mee was following had plowed into a gas pump. The department contends that Mee's lack of radio warning about the fires and other hazards placed responding deputies in potential danger.

But Mee said his radio broadcast that a crash had occurred at a gas station should have alerted listeners to the fire hazards.

"If they are so absent-minded to not consider that that is a possibility when responding to a gas station crash, then in my opinion they have no business being deputy sheriffs," Mee said.

The department has accused Mee of violating the agency's rules on pursuits during the June 17, 2011, incident. Mee had been following the suspected drunk driver's Nissan sports car when the vehicle slammed into the Chevron station, seriously injuring the driver and passenger.

Mee is also accused of not responding to the crash with sufficient urgency and of lying about the incident in his report and to investigators, saying that he had not been in pursuit of the suspected drunk driver.

At the county's Civil Service Commission on Tuesday, Mee acknowledged that he did not make his radio call for assistance until 1 minute and 13 seconds after he pulled into the gas station after the crash. Under cross-examination, he said he did not retrieve a fire extinguisher from his car until four minutes after he arrived.

But Mee said he carefully assessed the scene to determine how to respond and accused other deputies of misrepresenting the dangers.

He testified that he told the truth about the incident and had not been involved in a pursuit, even though he had been traveling about 80 mph behind the Nissan. The department concluded that Mee had been traveling 86 mph and the Nissan was going 138 mph.

Mee said the Nissan took off so quickly when he tried to make a traffic stop that he knew he could not keep up. He testified that he followed the car in the belief that the driver would head for the Antelope Valley Freeway nearby and crash.

Mee contends that his disciplinary problems stemmed from his arrest of Mel Gibson. He alleges that department managers falsely blamed him for leaking details of the arrest to celebrity news site TMZ.com and that he was repeatedly subjected to harassment and unfair discipline in the years that followed, culminating in his firing over the 2011 crash.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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