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Deputy who arrested Mel Gibson reaches tentative settlement in lawsuit

February 14, 2012 | 12:12 pm

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

The agreement still needs to be approved by the county Board of Supervisors before it becomes final.

"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."

Mee has said that in the years after the incident, he was passed over for promotions and had his job performance unfairly scrutinized. Because the deputy is Jewish, his attorneys said, he was unfairly suspected of leaking details of Gibson's tirade to the media.

"You go to work and you don't know what to expect," Mee told The Times after filing the suit. "I'm constantly in fear."

Department officials denied the allegations of retaliation and ethnic discrimination.

Mee, who is still with the department, said that as a deputy assigned to DUI duty in Malibu, he approached the 2006 arrest as routine. He included Gibson's slurs, he said, to illustrate how drunk the actor was.

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

Mee said he was planning to write the arrest report on another day because it was already late in his shift but was told by a supervisor that department higher-ups were waiting. Gibson, Mee's attorneys alleged, was of special interest to sheriff's officials because he was a friend of Sheriff Lee Baca's, and had been a spokesman in a public service announcement for a department-administered nonprofit.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore told The Times 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, a supervisor told him that the material was "not acceptable" because the anti-Semitic comments were irrelevant to the DUI, Mee said.

Mee 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.

He said he eventually followed a lieutenant's order to write separate reports. A memo from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office 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 Gibson.

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 Office of Independent Review, a department watchdog, found that Gibson was given special treatment, including being allowed to leave the station without giving a required palm print and without signing a statement agreeing to appear in court. He was also driven to the tow yard by a sheriff's sergeant.


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-- Robert Faturechi