Sheriff’s Deputy claims religious bias in county lawsuit

The arresting officer during Mel Gibson’s infamous DUI incident has filed a lawsuit against the county, claiming religious discrimination at Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

James Mee, the deputy at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station who arrested actor Mel Gibson in the infamous 2006 DUI incident, has launched a lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles, claiming he is the victim of retaliation because he is Jewish.

In the lawsuit filed Sept. 7 by Mee’s Woodland Hills-based attorneys, Etan Z. Lorant and Yael Trock, the deputy claims he was “unjustly denied” a promotion as the result of “religious discrimination and retaliation for plaintiff’s religion and his report of anti-Semitic remarks by [Gibson].” Mee claims that he was ordered by his superiors to rewrite the police report and delete the slurs, even though the original four pages were leaked to and posted by the TMZ tabloid Web site.

TMZ originally broke the story of the intoxicated Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant, and, in last week’s document, Mee detailed the events of July 28, 2006, when a drunken Gibson allegedly asked Mee if he was “a [expletive] Jew,” shouted that “the Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world!,” and threatened to cause Mee trouble at his job.

The suit claims one of Mee’s superiors erased videotape taken at the station following the arrest. TMZ claims that this videotape exists, as cameras are positioned at the station’s booking area. According to the Web site, the alleged video shows Gibson screaming and pacing in a cell.

Mee claims he was targeted for leaking the sensitive material to the media, despite the fact that other deputies had access to his report. He said he was interrogated, received a negative job performance report and was targeted in several investigations regarding the TMZ leak.

“We feel that he is being singled out because he was vocal and because he is Jewish,” Lorant told The Malibu Times regarding his client.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Steve Whitmore issued the following statement: “We are looking forward to telling the whole story and the whole story is not being told in this lawsuit. Ethnicity [has] nothing to do with any of this. An investigation was launched by the Sheriff’s Department to try and discover who was leaking official documents without authorization. That is a crime.”

The county has yet to respond to the lawsuit, which it must do within 30 days.

Mee, 55, was moved off of his Malibu beat and was reassigned to patrol Agoura Hills. On June 16, his lawyer said, Mee was relocated to the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s station “on an emergency transfer.”

In the lawsuit, Mee added that at the time of Gibson’s arrest the actor/director was a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Star Program.

Lorant explained the timing of Mee’s lawsuit, which is not long after the controversial Gibson-Oksana Grigorieva audiotapes leaked to the media in July. “The county had just concluded the investigation four years later about leaking to TMZ so we had to react to that,” Lorant said.

The Sheriff’s Department has yet to determine who leaked the report to TMZ. A Sheriff’s Department Headquarters letter addressed to Mee on July 20, from Sheriff Baca and Capt. Karyn Mannis of Internal Affairs, reads: “On July 28, 2006, it was alleged that you released confidential information to the media. Pursuant to this complaint, your Division Chief requested that the Internal Affairs Bureau conduct an independent investigation into this matter. Based on facts developed by the Internal Affairs Bureau, it has been determined that this complaint is unresolved.”

When asked if it was possible that Mee was not being targeted because of his religion but as the collateral damage of a cover-up for Gibson, a powerful and influential celebrity in the Malibu community, Lorant said it was too early to discuss this aspect of the case.

“We’re still in the process of gathering evidence,” the attorney said.

However, he said he believes his client’s version of events. “He’s a very good guy, a very intelligent guy,” Lorant said.

When reached at his business, Zuma Jay Surfboards, Mayor Jefferson Wagner said of the situation: “I have only read what is in the newspapers.”

Wagner noted that during his current role as mayor his contact with the Malibu/Lost Hills station has been limited. He did not want to speculate on whether such discrimination may have occurred, as this situation was still in play.

“It would be difficult for me to comment because it would just be speculation,” he said.

The mayor has had personal experience as a deputy himself.

“I used to be a deputy in Malibu,” Wagner said, referring to his short-lived stint as a Sheriff’s deputy in the late 1980s (concurrent to ownership of his local surf shop of 35 years).

“I had celebrity incidents, all of which resulted in positive contact with the celebrity. I haven’t experienced the type of incidents Deputy Mee [alleges to have experienced]. In my case, I’ve always had a fair outcome.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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