By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The night movie star Mel Gibson was arrested for drunken driving in Malibu turned out to be devastating for the Oscar-winning director.
His anti-Semitic tirade aimed at the Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who stopped him made worldwide headlines. Amid public outrage, Gibson issued an apology, describing his actions as “a moment of insanity” and a “public humiliation on a global scale.”
Nearly eight years later, the deputy who made the arrest says that night turned out to be a disaster not just for Gibson but for him too.
In a downtown Los Angeles hearing room where he is fighting for his job, James Mee testified Monday that his record with the Sheriff’s Department had been virtually spotless until he pulled over Gibson’s vehicle along a stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.
Mee contends 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. His treatment by the department, he argues, culminated in his firing two years ago over his handling of a traffic incident in which a suspected drunken driver slammed into a Santa Clarita gas station.
The Sheriff’s Department insists that Mee’s termination had nothing to do with Gibson’s arrest.
Mee, the department says, violated the agency’s rules on pursuits during the Santa Clarita traffic incident, which resulted in serious injuries to the car’s driver and passenger. The agency has accused Mee of failing to warn dispatchers and other deputies about how serious the fiery crash was and then lying about the incident in his report and to investigators, saying that he had not been in pursuit of the car.
A deputy testified last year in Mee’s ongoing appeal of discipline that he would have proceeded to the accident scene more quickly if Mee had warned that it was an emergency and described Mee as failing to do much more at the gas station than try to talk to the injured driver.
“Mr. Mee did not do his job and did not do what was expected of him,” attorney Vincent C. McGowan, who is representing the department in the appeal, said at a previous hearing in the case. “Deputy Mee tried to conceal, cover up what had happened here.”
Mee, who is seeking his old job back, played a recording during an appeals hearing Monday that he said captured a portion of his July 28, 2006, encounter with Gibson.
On the recording, Mee can be heard politely explaining the requirements of a sobriety test before a deep, gravelly voice starts hurling profanities and then threats, including: “I will have your head.” At one point, Mee testified that Gibson ran from the sheriff’s patrol car toward his own vehicle and that the actor said, when he was brought back, that he had been trying to retrieve something.
“What would you like to take with you?” Mee asked on the recording.
“Your … head,” came the reply, which included more expletives.
Mee said it was during his trip back to the sheriff’s Lost Hills station with Gibson in the back of his patrol car that the actor told him that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” and then asked, “are you a Jew?” Mee is Jewish.
Mee has said he was told to remove such comments from his original arrest report, and the department told reporters that Gibson was arrested “without incident.”
News of Gibson’s behavior sparked criticism that the department had provided special treatment to the actor, who had a close relationship with the agency. Mee was the subject of a sheriff’s criminal investigation into who leaked a copy of his arrest report, but was not charged.
In sometimes tearful testimony, Mee told a hearing officer for the county’s Civil Service Commission that his only discipline before the arrest had been a three-day suspension for crashing a patrol car in 1992. He said he had more than a decade of outstanding evaluations, far surpassed any of his station colleagues in making drunken driving arrests and received numerous awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his police work.
But after Gibson’s arrest, Mee testified, he found himself the subject of several internal investigations and was placed on a mentorship program.
He said he did nothing wrong during the June 17, 2011, traffic incident, which began when he tried to pull over a suspected drunken driver. Suddenly, he said, the vehicle sped off, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph before making a turn and plowing into a Chevron gas station.
Mee said his contention that he had not been pursuing the car was truthful. The speeding car was going too fast for him to chase, but he thought he would be able to keep close enough to watch it head for the nearby freeway and then alert the California Highway Patrol to the danger, he testified.
He defended his actions at the crash scene, saying that he acted with the type of caution he had been trained to show, but called for fire and paramedic services as soon as he realized that the speeding car had slammed into a gas pump. He testified that he called for support from other deputies, but didn’t ask them to race to the scene because rainfall had made the road conditions dangerous.
“I didn’t want to see anybody else get hurt,” he said, choking back tears.
Photo via WikiCommons
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