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Sheriff's deputy who arrested Mel Gibson is being fired

June 27, 2012 |  1:18 pm

James Mee, the deputy who accused the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department of retaliating against him after he arrested Mel Gibson in 2006 on a drunk-driving charge, is being fired, an official saidThe deputy who accused the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department of retaliating against him after he arrested Mel Gibson in 2006 on a drunk-driving charge is being fired, an official said.

After arresting Gibson, Deputy James Mee sued the department, alleging his supervisors targeted him because he resisted requests to remove the actor's anti-Semitic slurs from an initial arrest report.

Earlier this year, he reached a settlement agreement for $50,000.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore would not comment on the details of the firing, but he denied it was  retaliation for Mee's lawsuit.

"It has nothing to do whatsoever with the Mel Gibson arrest," he said.

Richard A. Shinee, Mee's attorney, said the department has been after Mee since the Gibson incident.

"Now they’ve put together this extremely flimsy case against him. This is a guy who had an outstanding career, a leader in street safety," he said. "He was well-respected until after the department got embarrassed by the Mel Gibson case, and they have pursued him relentlessly ever since."

Shinee said the department is trying to fire Mee over a June 17, 2011, pursuit of a drunk driver who slammed into a gas station, causing a fire. Mee received a letter dated June 7 notifying him the department intended to fire him, Shinee said.

"Although they allege that he violated the pursuit policy, the letter is unclear and vague as to how that occurred," Shinee said.

The lawyer said he believed the department's decision to fire Mee was also motivated by the deputy's recent testimony at a disciplinary hearing on behalf of a colleague accused of drunk driving. Mee, an expert on driving under the influence, testified in April at a civil service commission hearing, Shinee said.

The commission cited Mee's testimony in its decision to clear the discipline case, finding that there was no credible evidence that the deputy involved had been drunk.

The department relieved Mee of duty on May 15, about a month after he testified, Shinee said. The investigation into the pursuit was all but completed in December, when internal affairs officers finished with the last of the witnesses, Shinee said.

"Mee has been a thorn in the department's side because they perceive him as the reason they were caught lying to the public," he said. "This discharge is about as credible as their original claims in the Mel Gibson case."

After suing the department, Mee told The Times 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. "I'm constantly in fear."

Department officials denied the allegations of retaliation and ethnic discrimination.

Mee 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 department 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.

Whitmore told The Times that Baca had "over the years been friendly" with Gibson but denied that the sheriff intervened on the actor's behalf. 

Mee said that when he documented Gibson's rant, a supervisor told him the material was "not acceptable" because the anti-Semitic comments were irrelevant to the DUI.

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 L.A. 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 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.

Shinee said Mee was not responsible for the leak to TMZ.

"The department was so badly embarrassed by being caught lying about the Mel Gibson incident," he said. "There wasn't a shred of evidence that supported that [he leaked the arrest report] ... but it's apparent that they still harbor that belief."

The Sheriff's Department was criticized for its handling of the incident. The Office of Independent Review, the department's official 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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Photo: James Mee. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press