The head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department civilian oversight office said Tuesday that he has concerns about what motivated sheriff’s officials to try to conceal Mel Gibson’s anti-Jewish statements and belligerent behavior from the public and is troubled by the department’s initial description of the arrest as uneventful.
At the same time, Mike Gennaco, who heads the Office of Independent Review, said an initial review of the case found that no laws had been broken and that the arrest had been handled within departmental policy.
Still at issue is whether Gibson -- who issued a second apology Tuesday explicitly acknowledging that he had made anti-Semitic remarks and asking to meet with Jewish leaders -- was given special treatment by sheriff’s officials because of his celebrity status.
Sheriff’s Department officials confirmed to The Times on Tuesday that a uniformed deputy drove Gibson from the Malibu-Lost Hills station to a tow yard to retrieve his Lexus LS sedan after he was released on bail Friday morning. Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the 10-mile ride in a marked patrol car was not unusual.
“We do this for someone from time to time at all of our stations,” he said, adding that officials decided to drive Gibson to avoid a confrontation with gathering media.
But one department source, who asked not to be identified because of the case’s sensitivity, said it was a courtesy rarely extended to other suspects at the station.
Gennaco expressed surprise that Gibson had been driven by a deputy and said he would look into it. He said the decision to drive the actor could well be within policy, depending on why it was made.
Earlier in the day at a news conference outside his office in Commerce, Gennaco criticized the department’s initial handling of the case. Reporters were not initially informed of Gibson’s profane outbursts, attempt to escape custody and repeated threats to the arresting deputy. Instead, Whitmore initially described the arrest as “without incident.”
“If I described what I know about the arrest, I’m not sure I would have used those words,” Gennaco said.
In his comments Tuesday, broadcast live by cable and local media, Gennaco confirmed that the part of the arrest report detailing Gibson’s “increasingly belligerent” behavior had been removed from the original report and purposely placed in a supplemental document by station-level supervisors. However, Gennaco said he had found no evidence so far that the decision had been directed, or even discussed, by Sheriff Lee Baca or other top officials.
Gennaco said it was not necessarily unusual to break an arrest report into more than one part, adding that it is sometimes done to protect the integrity of an investigation.
“Was the modification of this report done in a way so that the disclosure of information to the public would somehow be altered?” Gennaco asked. “I don’t have the answer to that question.”
Gennaco said that his probe was in its early stages and that he still had “some concerns about the access to that information.”
Gibson was pulled over about 2:30 a.m. Friday by Deputy James Mee, who said the actor was driving more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone on Pacific Coast Highway. Mee said he smelled alcohol on Gibson’s breath and asked him to submit to Breathalyzer and field sobriety tests. According to sheriff’s officials, Gibson’s blood alcohol level measured .12% at the scene; the legal limit is .08%. An open bottle of tequila, one-quarter empty, was found in the vehicle.
In a part of the arrest report leaked last week to the celebrity website www.tmz.com, Mee wrote that after Gibson realized he was going to be arrested, he grew uncooperative and abusive. Gibson “blurted out a barrage of anti-Semitic remarks” and told Mee: “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Then he asked Mee, who is Jewish: “Are you a Jew?”
The Academy Award-winning director, who had denied charges of anti-Semitism made by some Jewish groups when he released his controversial 2004 blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ,” issued a second apology Tuesday explicitly dealing with his anti-Jewish statements during the arrest.
“I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge,” the statement said.
Gibson had previously apologized for “despicable” behavior, but several prominent Jewish leaders said that wasn’t enough.
The new statement satisfied some critics.
“This is the apology we had sought and requested,” said Abraham H. Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director. “We are glad that Mel Gibson has finally owned up to the fact that he made anti-Semitic remarks, and his apology sounds sincere.”
But in an advertisement placed in the Business section of today’s Los Angeles Times, veteran producer Merv Adelson called on Hollywood to protest Gibson’s comments. “Let’s make ourselves proud and not support this jerk in any way, just because he’s a so-called ‘star.’ People like Mel Gibson give us all a bad name.”
Prosecutors said Tuesday that they were still considering what charges, if any, to file against Gibson. Ralph Shapiro, head deputy in the Malibu office, said he probably would decide today.
Gibson could face criminal charges, although prosecutors said he was unlikely to have to appear in court on a misdemeanor drunk driving charge, a typical charge for a first offense that caused no injuries.
The charges could go beyond drunk driving, Shapiro said. Although he called Gibson’s alleged anti-Jewish statements “unfortunate comments, if true,” he said they have no bearing on the criminal case.
“I’m concerned with the DUI. I’m concerned with the other charges that may come out. The other stuff -- that’s for other people to discuss,” he said.
Shapiro said this is the first case involving a high-profile celebrity he has handled in the two years he has worked in Malibu. He said he would treat the case “the same as any other,” while at the same time acknowledging that there are some differences.
“I’ve locked up all the materials I have in the Gibson case and I’m the only one who has access to them,” Shapiro said. “The best indication of the future is what has happened in the past. In this case, things already have leaked to the media. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen here.”
In addition to locking away the material -- which reportedly includes audio- and videotape from the arrest and Gibson’s booking -- Shapiro said he notified the court administrator that if he files charges, he will file them directly to her instead of to the clerk’s office.
“It’s designed to prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of the situation where publicity is involved,” he said.
Times staff writer Stuart Pfeifer contributed to this report.