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Web site seeks release of Mel Gibson arrest tapes

By The Associated Press
08.04.06

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported Aug. 9 that audio and video tapes of Mel Gibson's drunken-driving arrest were exempt from the California Public Records Act and would not be released, according to authorities, despite requests from a celebrity news Web site. Gary P. Gross, principal deputy for the county counsel's office, said the tapes were records of the police investigation and as such must remain sealed.

LOS ANGELES — The movie that could be the most important of Mel Gibson's career is one the actor likely will fight to never have released.

The video and audio recording of Gibson's drunken driving arrest could add fuel to the controversy over his anti-Semitic tirade at a deputy who pulled him over and his self-described belligerent behavior when he was brought to a sheriff's station early on July 28.

For now, authorities won't release the tapes, which are being sought by an Internet celebrity-news site.

"They are part of the evidence," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "Once everything is done and the case is wrapped up we certainly can revisit it."

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the tapes would not be made public unless they were introduced as evidence at a trial.

"We retain them as part of the investigative file," Robison said. "We do not release them unless they become part of the public record."

However, legal experts agree that it is unlikely that Gibson will ask for a trial. Gibson's lawyer, Blair Berk, declined to comment on the matter.

TMZ, the Web site that first released leaked sections of Gibson's booking report, is seeking the tapes under the California Public Records Act.

It maintains the tapes should be seen and heard by the public to assess whether the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department gave Gibson preferential treatment.

"We want the tapes not just because of Mel Gibson but because the tape puts the conduct of the sheriff's department in context," said Harvey Levin, head of TMZ.

Questions have been raised about the fact that a sheriff's department spokesman initially said Gibson had been arrested without incident. Also, the arresting deputy's initial written report, which contained Gibson's controversial statements, was ordered modified and the comments were placed in a supplemental report instead.

"Although the sheriff's department has maintained that deputies did not show Mr. Gibson favoritism, the department's prompt release of the requested materials will speak louder than any statement the department's spokesperson can make," TMZ lawyer Alonzo Wickers IV wrote in a letter to the sheriff's department.

Los Angeles' leading First Amendment lawyers said it will be an uphill battle to obtain the tapes before the case is resolved.

But attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. said the case is unusual because Gibson has "confessed on the record not only to the charges but to making statements that have nothing to do with the charges."

Boutrous also noted that Sheriff Lee Baca has discussed the contents of the tapes publicly, which may provide a legal argument for their release.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Baca said he believed all evidence had been properly evaluated in prosecutors' decision to charge Gibson with misdemeanor drunken driving.

Baca added that the district attorney's office said it had received all the appropriate evidence — including the tapes and information on "inappropriate remarks, hateful remarks, anti-Semitic remarks."


Related

California high court: Traffic stop reports aren't public records

Justices rule that police investigative material is among the two dozen exceptions to government records being open to public inspection. 10.03.01

Open records

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