Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 7 News List

LA County sheriff disputes claims of soft treatment in arrest of Mel Gibson

AP , SAN DIEGO

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca defended his department's handling of Mel Gibson's drunken driving arrest, rejecting claims that deputies tried to cover up anti-Semitic comments the actor made.

"Those are completely false," Baca said on Wednesday while attending a congressional hearing in San Diego. "The district attorney in his statement clearly verifies that all of the evidence -- including inappropriate remarks, hateful remarks, anti-Semitic remarks, including with the videotape along with the audiotape," is there.

Gibson was charged with misdemeanor drunken driving on Wednesday, five days after he was stopped on Malibu's Pacific Coast Highway for speeding and unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade that has stained his public image.

Baca called the cover-up allegations "ludicrous" and took a swipe at Harvey Levin, who runs TMZ.com, the celebrity gossip site that first posted a sheriff's report containing the alleged comments and has accused sheriff's officials of doctoring an initial report to keep the story from the public.

"It's ludicrous. Ludicrous. It's a blog, it's a Harvey Levin opinion. And legitimate media should deal with facts and not opinions," Baca said.

He said that Gibson, who helped a charity organization for the Sheriff's Department, received no special treatment.

"And we're pretty confident that with all things considered, with all the hoopla about charitable donations, all the hoopla about the idea that he was a celebrity and was given a favor -- if that were the case he would not have been arrested," Baca said.

Baca also said the deputy who stopped Gibson "had the full authority to not arrest him and just take him home."

When asked to elaborate, the sheriff's spokesman said, "By law in misdemeanors, we have the option to arrest or not arrest. But it is the LA County Sheriff's Department policy to always arrest drunk drivers."

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