The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s civilian oversight office said Saturday that it will investigate whether authorities gave Mel Gibson preferential treatment when he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and tried to cover up alleged offensive comments and behavior by one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures.
The probe was begun after a celebrity news website, TMZ.com, published portions of the arresting deputy’s handwritten report, saying the star was abusive, shouted anti-Jewish slurs, attempted to escape from custody and boasted that he “owned Malibu.” A source close to the investigation confirmed Saturday that the pages posted by the website were authentic.
On Friday, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman told reporters that Gibson had been arrested that day in Malibu “without incident.” But the website alleged that evening that supervisors at the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station tried to downplay the actor’s behavior by omitting his most offensive actions in an abridged version of the arresting deputy’s report, which has yet to be made public.
“All that stuff about favorable treatment is something that needs to be looked at,” said Mike Gennaco, who heads the Office of Independent Review, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct and monitors the department.
“I’d like to see if there was a legitimate law enforcement reason for asking that the report be altered,” Gennaco said. He said his investigation will be wide-reaching, looking at Gibson’s ties to the department. In the past, Gibson has actively participated in a charity created by Sheriff Lee Baca.
Baca on Saturday defended the way his department handled the case and said the actor’s behavior after his arrest is not relevant to the criminal charges.
“There is no cover-up,” he said. “Our job is not to [focus] on what he said. It’s to establish his blood-alcohol level when he was driving and proceed with the case. Trying someone on rumor and innuendo is no way to run an investigation, at least one with integrity.”
Gibson issued a statement Saturday apologizing for his “despicable” behavior.
“I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested,” the statement reads, “and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.”
Gibson said he has battled alcoholism as an adult, adding, “I ... profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health.”
Baca said he has not seen the official arrest report and would not comment on what it contained.
“People say stupid things when they are drunk, and they later regret it,” Baca said. “You don’t convict him on what he said. People aren’t convicted for saying stupid things.”
In the written pages posted on www.tmz.com, the arresting deputy -- identified as James Mee -- wrote that after cooperating at first, Gibson became “increasingly belligerent as he took stock of his predicament.”
The deputy said he told Gibson “that if he remained cooperative, I would transport him without handcuffing.”
Instead, he said, Gibson tried to flee back to his car. After he was subdued and handcuffed, the actor told the deputy: “You’re going to regret you ever did this to me.”
Gibson, the report continued, then said he “owned Malibu” and launched a “barrage of anti-Semitic remarks.”
Those remarks included Gibson’s statement that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” the report said. After that, Gibson allegedly asked the deputy: “Are you a Jew?”
Gibson has had a close relationship with the Sheriff’s Department. He served in 2002 as a “celebrity representative” for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department’s Star Organization, a group that provides scholarships and aid for the children of slain sheriff’s deputies.
Gibson donated $10,000 to the stepdaughter of a deputy shot and killed in the line of duty and filmed public service announcements for Baca’s relief committee dressed in a sheriff’s uniform.
“My heart goes out to the people ... the families of the men who are killed while actually doing their job,” the actor said at the time. “They put their lives on the line every single day.”
Gibson was pulled over about 2:30 a.m. Friday on Pacific Coast Highway after a deputy observed him driving his 2006 Lexus LS at more than 80 mph, nearly twice the posted speed limit.
A bottle of tequila was found in Gibson’s car. The deputy administered breath and field sobriety tests, said Steve Whitmore, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
Gibson’s blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.12%. The legal limit for driving is 0.08% in California. Gibson was taken to the sheriff’s station, where he was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and released at 10 a.m. on $5,000 bail.
Department of Motor Vehicles records show that Gibson had no previous driving-related convictions or accidents in California.
Hollywood was speculating Saturday on what effect, if any, statements attributed to Gibson would have on his career, although few would comment on the record. Studio executives noted that Gibson has made enough money that he doesn’t really rely on the studios as much as he once did because he can finance his pictures independently. They even question whether Gibson wants to act, noting that he has turned his talents to directing in recent years.
This is not Gibson’s first brush with controversy. He came under fire from some Jewish groups with the release of “The Passion of the Christ,” which he co-wrote and directed. Jewish leaders said they found it painful, offensive and capable of stoking anti-Semitic response. Gibson disputed the allegations, saying the film, about the final hours’ of Jesus’ life, was meant to inspire, not offend. In an April 2004 program on CNN, the actor denied he was an anti-Semite.
Gibson told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2004 that the movie grew from a spiritual rebirth he experienced in 1991, as he struggled with alcohol and other addictions.
“Drugs, booze, anything. You name it,” Gibson said during the interview. “Coffee, cigarettes, anything. All right? I’m just one of these guys who is like that. That’s my flaw.”
Contributing to his controversial image was his affiliation with a traditionalist Catholic movement, which inspired Gibson to build a house of worship in Malibu. That church is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Gibson’s father -- a leader of that traditionalist movement -- has also provoked controversy. A March 2003 New York Times Magazine article quoted his father, Hutton Gibson, as dismissing historical accounts that 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.
Gibson was the highest paid celebrity in 2004, earning $210 million, according to Forbes magazine. The next year, he earned $185 million more, thanks largely to DVD sales of “The Passion of the Christ,” a worldwide blockbuster. As a filmmaker, Gibson has taken many other risks that have usually paid off. He earned a best director Oscar for his 1995 film “Braveheart.”
The Australian-raised Gibson became one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors playing good-natured action stars, notably in the “Lethal Weapon” series. In promoting his movies, the actor has cultivated an image with fans of a witty practical joker who does not take himself too seriously.
He’s taking another chance on his upcoming release, “Apocalypto.” The film, about the decline of the Maya empire, features dialogue in an ancient language. It is set for release later this year by Walt Disney Co.
Disney officials on Saturday referred calls to Gibson’s publicist, who would not comment. But Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Inc., said success at the box office often compensates for personal missteps.
“In Hollywood the main currency is currency. It’s about box office,” he said. “If someone says something offensive but the movie makes a lot of money, it seems all is forgiven. We’ve seen people recover from just about everything in Hollywood.”
Times staff writers Megan Garvey, James Bates, Cara Mia DiMassa, Richard Winton, Jack Leonard, Jean Merl, Rong-Gong Lin II and Robert Welkos contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The Website With the Gibson Case Documents
Question: What is TMZ.com, the website that published the report about Gibson?
Answer: The celebrity news and gossip website is a joint venture by America Online and Telepictures.
Q: What are the documents?
A: The posted documents are marked “pages four through eight.” They were handwritten by the deputy who arrested Gibson and describe his behavior. The Times verified their authenticity through a source.
Q: Who runs the website?
A: Harvey Levin is the site’s managing editor. He’s a longtime local TV news reporter and consultant to “The People’s Court.” He and a team of 25 have an office in Glendale.
Q: What does TMZ stand for?
A: “Thirty-Mile Zone,” an entertainment industry term referring to the area around Hollywood.
Q: What are the ramifications of the documents’ release?
A: The Sheriff’s Department said it has launched an investigation into the leaking of the internal documents to TMZ.com.
From Times Staff Reports