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Mel Gibson DUI incident

On July 28, 2006, at 2:36am PDT, Mel Gibson was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol after being stopped for speeding (84 mph/140 km per hour in a 45 mph/72 km/h zone) in his 2006 Lexus LS 430 on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California. A breathalyzer test measured Gibson’s blood-alcohol level as "0.12%" (the state's legal limit is 0.08%), and next to him was an open container of "Cazadores Tequila," 750ml at 75% full. Gibson was described by the arresting officer James Mee as cooperative until arrested, at which point he became belligerent and experienced mood swings. While handcuffed in the car, Gibson made anti-Semitic remarks to Mee, who is Jewish. TMZ reported that Gibson asked a female sergeant at the station "What are you looking at, sugar tits?", citing an unnamed law enforcement source; however, this allegation was not found in the unofficial arrest report. Gibson was released on bail at 9 am PDT. TMZ.com broke the story of Gibson's arrest for DUI on July 28 at 7 pm PDT, and later that night TMZ posted photocopies of an unofficial arrest report. The next day Gibson confessed to driving under the influence and to "despicable" behavior during his arrest, and a frenzy of media coverage followed.

Arrest and leaked report

At 9:15 pm PDT the night of Gibson's arrest, TMZ.com posted a detailed account of Gibson's arrest, transport to the station, and time in custody. The website quoted an anonymous law enforcement source and posted four pages of a handwritten arrest report. TMZ claimed that the documents were part of the original eight-page report written by the arresting officer Deputy James Mee before he was allegedly instructed by his superiors to omit the inflammatory details about Gibson's alleged anti-Semitic comments and abusive behavior. The leaked report alleges that Gibson stated, "Fucking Jews...Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" and asked Deputy Mee, "Are you a Jew?" The report further alleges that Gibson refused to enter the patrol car and had to be handcuffed. He also allegedly claimed to "own" the city of Malibu, California. According to the report, Gibson's blood alcohol content was measured at 0.12% (the legal blood alcohol level limit for driving in California is 0.08%). The unnamed law enforcement source alleged that Gibson asked a female sergeant, "What are you looking at, sugar tits?" and threatened to urinate on the floor when he was not taken to the restroom. Booked at 4:06am PDT, Gibson was released 5 hours later, around 9am PDT.

A day after Gibson's July 29 apology, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times reported that unnamed sources confirmed to them that the leaked documents were authentic. The Associated Press later reported that the official arrest report would cite the anti-Semitic comments. The authenticity of the leaked arrest report was neither confirmed nor denied by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, but the Department denied that a cover-up had taken place.

TMZ filed a formal request under the California Public Records Act to receive a copy of the audiotape of the arrest. To date, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has declined to release the tape, citing the investigative records exemption, which permits otherwise public records to be withheld if there is an ongoing investigation. Although three videotapes were used in an attempt to record Mel Gibson at the station, the tapes were either defective or missing. A Sheriff’s Department member claimed that a supervisor had deliberately erased one of the tapes because of inappropriate remarks made by department personnel. The Office of Independent Review of the L.A.S.D. could not find sufficient evidence to prove intentional erasures.

Confession and general apology

Gibson responded to the TMZ report on July 29, 2006 by admitting to "belligerent behavior" and "despicable" remarks, and he apologized to the sheriff's deputies and everyone else he offended:

Gibson's publicist announced that Gibson entered an out-patient addiction recovery program leading to criticism that he had not entered a residential program. An unnamed source from Gibson's inner circle claimed that Gibson was on the verge of suicide the night of his arrest and was experiencing blackouts. Mainstream media coverage of the Gibson’s alleged behavior during the DUI arrest began soon after the release of his apology to the Sheriff’s deputies, and it was featured on the front page of several tabloids, including The New York Post; many of these carried headlines along the lines of "Mad Mel". Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release stating that Gibson's apology (with no explicit acknowledgment of anti-Semitic remarks) was "unremorseful and insufficient" and that the ADL hoped "that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.

Apology to the Jewish community

Gibson released a second statement on August 1, 2006 specifically apologizing for anti-Semitic remarks and asking to meet with leaders of the Jewish community to effect healing:

After this statement, Abraham Foxman accepted his apology on behalf of the ADL, and Holocaust survivor Flory Van Beek extended her forgiveness.

Response

Media coverage

In the summer of 2006, Mel Gibson’s arrest and his subsequent apologies sparked a flurry of media reporting and commentary at a time when the major news story was the 2006 Lebanon War, in its 17th day at the time of the DUI incident. Media figures debated the appropriate response to Gibson’s alleged remarks and whether those remarks proved bigotry. Some members of the media expressed dismay that the coverage of Gibson’s DUI arrest had become excessive.

Commentators offered differing opinions on the affects of alcohol and the disease of alcoholism in relation to remarks made while intoxicated. On the MSNBC program Scarborough Country, show producer Mike Yarvitz drank to raise his blood alcohol level to 0.12, matching Gibson's level in the report. Yarvitz emphasized "not feeling anti-Semitic" after drinking. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote, "Well, I'm sorry about his relapse, but I just don't buy the idea that a little tequila, or even a lot of tequila, can somehow turn an unbiased person into a raging anti-Semite - or a racist, or a homophobe, or a bigot of any kind, for that matter. Alcohol removes inhibitions, allowing all kinds of opinions to escape uncensored. But you can't blame alcohol for forming and nurturing those opinions in the first place. John Derbyshire, a critic of The Passion of the Christ, wrote in the National Review, "As little as I care for Mel and his splatter-fest Brit-hating oeuvre, though, I care even less for the schoolmarmish, prissy, squealing, skirt-clutching, sissified, feminized, pansified, preening moral vanity of the vile and anti-human Political Correctness cult." He went on to write, "The guy was drunk, for heaven’s sake. We all say and do dumb things when we are drunk. If I were to be judged on my drunken escapades and follies, I should be utterly excluded from polite society, and so would you, unless you are some kind of saint. David Horowitz on the August 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes said "People deserve compassion when they're in this kind of trouble. I think it would be very ungracious for people to deny it to him. Radio host Michael Medved, a strong supporter of the The Passion of the Christ, expressed humiliation at Gibson's anti-Semitic rant and condemned it. Nevertheless, Medved suggested reconciliation between the Jewish community and Gibson was preferable to shunning Gibson.

The media also sought out the opinions of medical specialists on whether alcohol released a person’s true feelings. According to addiction psychologist G. Alan Marlatt, "Alcohol is not a truth serum…It may or may not indicate his true feelings." Addiction psychiatrist Bryon Adinoff stated "Clearly, Jews are on his mind. He made The Passion of the Christ, and many reacted negatively to how Jews were depicted. Now we have a war going on in the Middle East. It's something that's on his mind, or it probably wouldn't come out when he had some alcohol.” According to psychologist William Iacono, the remarks attributed to Gibson "could reflect pent-up frustration and anger at how his life has changed since he made the movie. People can lash out when they're drunk, and we don't know how deeply they believe what they're saying." Addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky also disagreed with the notion of alcohol as a "truth serum", saying "even when they are mildly intoxicated, if somebody is truly an addict...the thinking associated with addiction is profoundly affected.

Some commentors asserted that the media coverage of Gibson’s DUI arrest was unbalanced or excessive. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby noted the large disparity in media coverage between the Gibson DUI arrest and a more serious anti-Semitic incident that occurred on the same day, the deadly Seattle Jewish Federation shooting.

A Fox News poll reported on August 11, 2006, that a large number of Americans would not allow the incident to affect their decision about whether to watch Gibson's future movies, reporting "eight out of 10 people say his arrest and negative comments about Jewish people will not make a difference to them," while 10% "probably" and 6% "definitely" would not attend Gibson's future movies.

Hollywood and celebrity reactions

The public reaction from Hollywood was mixed and muted, with a few critics denouncing Gibson in the press and Gibson’s friends and co-workers supporting him.After the incident, ABC canceled a planned television mini-series about Holocaust survivor Flory Van Beek to be produced by Gibson's Icon Productions, citing lack of progress.

Some Hollywood agents weighed in on Gibson’s arrest, sparking further public debate. Jeff Berg, head of ICM, the talent agency that has represented Gibson for 18 years, told the Los Angeles Times that Gibson had called him after the arrest and that Berg "was trying to communicate the actor's remorse to his staff and clients." Berg told the paper that "I hate what he said, and so does he" and that "his remarks have created a first class mess, and he has owned up to it." On July 30, 2006, Endeavor Agency founder Ari Emanuel wrote an open letter to the Hollywood community to blacklist ICM-represented Mel Gibson. Emanuel blogged on the Huffington Post, "People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. This letter inspired a number of responses. In an August 2 blog on Huffington Post, Harry Shearer criticized the hypocrisy of Hollywood agents “lecturing us about there being more important things than money,” writing that while he is not defending Mel Gibson, “to be absolutely honest, in my slight dealings with him, I've found him more pleasant and less upsetting than certain persons on the other side of this discussion.” On August 4, Gavin de Becker wrote an open letter to Ari Emanuel in the Hollywood Reporter to chide him for exploiting Gibson’s situation to inflame political sentiment. He also wrote, “After thirty years of predicting intent through assessing words and context, I can tell you if we start taking the things people say when very drunk or very high or very angry as their enduring truth, we're all going to have to reassess many relationships… A list of people who can't work in this town based on what someone assumes they believe - didn't Hollywood already suffer that experience?” Radio personality Howard Stern called Gibson "a filthy anti-semite" and was critical of The Passion Of The Christ though he admitted to loving Apocalypto on DVD.

A few other celebrities expressed opinions on Mel Gibson after his DUI arrest. Comedian Bill Maher wrote that while he thinks that Gibson fights within himself against anti-Semitism, “he'll never win as long as he's so religious, because, I hate to tell you, the disease isn't alcholism [sic], the disease is religion. Maher also argued that the whole world is like Gibson (harboring latent anti-Semitism) when it comes to Israel and its war with Lebanon. On August 3, Rob Schneider took out a full-page ad in Variety to send an open letter to the Hollywood community, pledging as "a 1/2 Jew" to "never work with Mel Gibson-actor-director-producer-and anti-Semite." He further wrote that "even if Mr. Gibson offered me a lead role in 'Passion of the Christ 2', I, like Bernie Brillstein, would have to say 'No!'" Schneider also used the ad mention his upcoming directorial debut, Big Stan, writing that he would not even cast Gibson in the part of a Nazi gang leader "which apparently Mel would be PERRR-FECT for." In 2008, Schneider described his ad as "a comedic, satirical view of how I saw the situation with Mel Gibson, and also the hypocrisy of show business when they're all standing in line to say what a bad person he is when they're all a bunch of hypocritical assholes. Rob Reiner said that Gibson’s apology for his drunken remarks was not enough and that he needed to apologize for The Passion of the Christ, saying “his work reflects anti-Semitism.” During an interview with Celebrity Week in October 2006, Joan Rivers said that Mel Gibson "is an anti-Semitic son of a bitch. He should fucking die!”

Several close friends and associates in Hollywood have come out to publicly defend Gibson, including Patrick Swayze, Jodie Foster and M. Night Shyamalan. Producer Dean Devlin described Gibson as “one of his best friends in Hollywood" and said that Gibson had spent the afternoon before the DUI arrest at his Devin's home. Concerning Gibson’s alcoholism, Devin remarked, "I have been with Mel when he has fallen off, and he becomes a completely different person. It is pretty horrifying." Noting that he and his wife are Jewish, Devin said, “If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with us, which makes no sense.” Robert Downey Jr, who is Jewish on his father's side and has publicly defended Gibson during the controversy surrounding the The Passion of the Christ, argued Gibson was "caught in the act of being an imperfect human being. Jodie Foster has bristled at accusations in the media that Gibson used alcoholism to dodge charges of racism, saying “This is a man who almost died. He's not some guy who went to rehab because he got a traffic ticket.” Director Richard Donner, who has worked with Gibson in six films and is Jewish, said that he had never heard him say anything anti-Semitic and that “in all of us there are seeds that have been implanted by others. He’s crying out for help.”

Allegations of special treatment

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's civilian oversight Office of Independent Review opened an investigation into whether Gibson received special treatment due to his celebrity status and examine how the officer's internal report was leaked to TMZ.com. Watchdog lawyer Michael Gennaco said an initial probe showed sheriffs did not give Gibson favorable treatment. The Office of Independent Review considered how the arrest of celebrities highlighted the issue of privacy rights of individuals versus the public’s interest in arrests by deputies. In the case of Gibson’s arrest, their annual report examined the allegations that the Department had improperly sought to keep his alleged inflammatory statements from review by altering the original police report. The investigation concluded that the unit commander had acted appropriately in placing the remarks attributed to Gibson in a supplemental report for the District Attorney’s office, and that his decision was not suggested or influenced by his superiors. The OIR found that the standard release protocol was not followed with Gibson because he was not required to give his palm print or sign a statement promising to appear in court. Furthermore, his supervisors were found to have violated department policy in driving Gibson to the tow yard without consulting the watch commander. The same investigation looked into alleged lack of professionalism at the station for non-essential employees entering the holding area to view Gibson while he was in custody. The investigation did not produce sufficient evidence to establish these charges. The OIR investigation into the improper leaking of confidential material to TMZ is still ongoing.

Some people have noted that the Los Angeles County District Attorney did not file the maximum charges permitted by law. Under California law, the prosecution may allege in the criminal complaint that the defendant was driving at speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) on a surface street or 30 mph (48 km/h) on a highway over the speed limit. If admitted or proven true, this adds an automatic 60 days in jail to the sentence. Although Gibson was reportedly traveling at 87 mph (140 km/h) in a 45 mph (72 km/h) zone, no excess speeding complaint was filed and Gibson received no mandatory jail time.

Charge, plea and sentencing

On August 2, 2006, Mel Gibson was formally charged with misdemeanor drunken driving, setting an arraignment date of September 28. On August 18, 2006, Gibson's attorney, on his client's behalf, entered a plea of no contest to one count of driving while having a blood alcohol content higher than .08. The other charges were dropped. Judge Lawrence J. Mira sentenced Gibson to three years probation, 4 1/2 months of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings 5 times a week, followed by 7 1/2 months of meetings 3 times a week. Gibson also volunteered to do public-service announcements on the hazards of drinking and driving, and to immediately enter rehabilitation. He was also ordered to enroll in an alcohol-abuse program for three months, fined a total of $1,300 and had his license restricted for 90 days. At a May 2007 progress hearing, Judge Mira praised Gibson for complying with the terms of his probation, saying, "I know his extensive participation in a self-help program - and I should note he has done extensive work, beyond which was required.

Aftermath

Diane Sawyer Interview with Gibson

On October 13, 2006, Gibson told Diane Sawyer that he was "ashamed" of his remarks, and that while his initial attitude was that they were just "the stupid ramblings of a drunkard," he came to realize that his words had actually frightened people. Gibson stated that 3 concerns may have led to his remarks: 1) the US-backed 2006 war in Lebanon which was in its 17th day 2) the general level of escalating violence in the Middle East as relating to Israel 3) those Jewish individuals who gave him a "brutal sort of public beating" over the making of The Passion of the Christ where he never heard a "single word of apology". When questioned about the influence of his father, Holocaust denier Hutton Gibson, Gibson stated:
We're talking about me right now. And me taking responsibility for my words and actions. And … I'm certainly not going to use him, to sort of put anything off of me. It isn't the explanation for what happened that night. It isn't. It has nothing to do with it. … That's in my own heart.

Change to California law

As a result of the circumstances surrounding Gibson’s arrest, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, proposed legislation ("Mel's Law") that would criminalize the sale of privileged information pertaining to the arrests of high-profile suspects. The lawmaker argued that Mel Gibson's due process rights were violated by the unauthorized leak of prejudicial allegations before he had received due process. Bill AB920 was approved unanimously by both the California state assembly in May 2007 and the state senate in September 2007, and the bill was signed into law by the governor in October 2007

Satire

  • Chevy Chase starred the Law & Order episode "In Vino Veritas" that aired November 3, 2006 in which he used Gibson's expression "sugartits" as well as anti-Semitic slurs that were much more extreme than Gibson's.
  • In the South Park episode Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy, Kindergarten teacher Ms. Stephenson explains her sexual relationship with Kyle's three-year-old brother Ike by saying, "I'm an alcoholic." Cartman responds, "Oh, no! She used the Mel Gibson defense!" In the episode D-Yikes!, the phrase "Was I talking to you, Sugartits?!" was used by Mrs. Garrison.
  • Saturday Night Live aired a parody of the movie trailer for Apocalypto with a reference to Gibson's quotes on "sugartits" and Jews.
  • Gibson's apology was parodied in the Family Guy episode "Prick Up Your Ears," when Peter said he'd be more convincing than the aforementioned apology which addressed such stereotypes as big noses, greed, etc.
  • The unrated version of the 2007 parody film Epic Movie featured a "Mel Gibson lookalike" (played by Gregory Jbara), apparently jailed for DUI, calling "Edward" (played by Kal Penn) "Sugartits.
  • Shortly after the incident occurred, Heavy.com hosted a "Dress-Up Mel Gibson" page created by Normal Bob Smith to dress Gibson up in a variety of controversial outfits.
  • In the episode "Release The Dogs" from the comedy Two and a Half Men a policeman who has just arrested Alan Harper remarks, "At least this clown didn't ask if I was Jewish."
  • MAD magazine included in one issue a Meldalini page which spoofed Gibson with an alternative cover and a first draft of his apology along with others.
  • On the start of the Season 3 of Mind of Mencia, Carlos Mencia did a re-enactment of this incident.
  • In the Simpsons episode called, "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind," Krusty states that he did a "Mel Gibson."
  • A rejected Pearls Before Swine comic strip made a reference to that incident, where Pig tried to offer a welcome basket filled with fruit and bagels to "that guy who moved in across the street". Rat said he heard he's "some famous guy trying to get away from Hollywood". When Pig met the neighbor, the neighbor said almost exactly what Mel said to the policemen that pulled him over. When Pig got home, he said "No more bagels for that guy". The strip was rejected because United Feature Syndicate said it could cause real problems, thus, Stephan Pastis pulled that strip off at the last minute. The rejected strip can be seen on page 258 of the Pearls Before Swine book The Crass Menagerie as part of the bonus The Not Ready For Prime Time Comic Strips section.
  • The Paul and Storm song "Too Friggin' Hot" on their 2006 album News to Us refers to the episode.

Notes and references

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